No1 Sun Engine

In their work for the Cairo Biennale, Christina Hemauer and Roman Keller deal with a largely forgotten episode from the early history of the commercial use of solar energy: in 1913, American engineer and inventor Frank Shuman inaugurated the first large-scale solar power generator in Maadi near Cairo.

Making use of a solar collector area of 1,240 m2, it produced the energy for a water pump supplying elevated farmland with water from the Nile. Operation of this system was demonstrably more cost-effective than a coal-based plant of the same capacity. Despite the fact that the plant was successfully put into operation and Shuman was at the centre of international public attention for a short period, the plant was only used for one year. The First World War precipitated the worldwide predominance of oil, thereby putting a provisional end to any attempts of pursuing the development of alternative sources of energy on a large scale.

The fate of oil subsequently shaped the history of the 20th century and continues to be a major factor in global affairs to the present day. For oil is not only the basis of economic growth and thus for modern life with its energy-hungry amenities, but it also continues to be the cause of geopolitical tension and power struggles. Viewed in that light, the story of the power plant in Maadi which was constructed with financial resources from England and human resources from Egypt has direct relevance to the present in more than one respect.

The work of Christina Hemauer and Roman Keller takes the form of a multi-stage project displayed at two locations. In the exhibition building of the Biennale (Palace of Arts), a reconstruction of two segments reminds visitors of the solar power station. The installation is accompanied by original pictorial documents as well as the publication «Sun of 1913». At the former location of the power plant in Maadi, the two artists have set up an information kiosk which tells local residents and passersby about the history of the solar power station while at the same time collecting their information and stories on this episode.

Press release, Andreas Münch, curator


Installation, intervention in public space and book publication

11th Cairo International Biennale
20.12.2008 – 20.2.2009

Egypt, Switzerland, France, Belgium


2019: Atelier FAS Gallery, Philadelphia
2018: Verbeke Foundation, Kemzeke
2013: accès(s) cultures électroniques, Pau
2010: Museum Bärengasse, Zurich
2009: Darb 1718 Contemporary Art and Culture Center, Cairo
2009: Kulturzentrum Nairs
2009: Ausstellungsraum Klingental, Basel
2008-09: 11th Cairo International Biennale