Energy Shrine

















ENERGY SHRINE,  street performance with video projection


I am an anthropologist at the City University of New York and am
studying cultural conceptions of energy in New York City.  Last night
I stumbled upon Sasha Sumner’s interesting “Energy Shrine” on 14th
Street, and watched in fascination.

Dr. Stephanie Rupp
Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
City University of New York, Lehman College

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Hi Stephanie,
Hey, thanks for writing.
Glad you were able to see the Energy Shrine performance.   Would like
to hear more about your focus of study.

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Dear Sasha,

Thank you very much for your reply, and apologies for the delay in my
message back to you!

It was very interesting to watch your “Energy Shrine” performance this
past weekend.  Your performance brought a lot of important and
interesting questions to the fore, in a very creative and evocative

I am working on an ethnography of energy in New York City, and am
seeking to understand how New Yorkers think about energy as a cultural
artifact.  I think that most New Yorkers don’t have much of a
scientific foundation for understanding energy and energy systems, and
so rely on other kinds of cultural models for thinking about,
explaining, and managing energy.  I’m interested in exploring these
other models, and laying them alongside the scientific and technical
understandings of energy, in order to get a sense of the “social life”
of energy in contemporary New York.  Some of my work so far has
focused on collecting ethnographic narratives of the various blackouts
in the city (1965, ’77, ’03, ’06), as well as the various frameworks
for conceptualizing “energy” itself.

Your performance was especially intriguing because you integrated
numerous cultural models of energy, from food (bread) to love (the
wedding dress) to electricity (the projector that shone the text above
the mural) to politics (discussions of ConEd and NYC’s historical
blackouts to science (inclusion of some physics in the text). It’s
very unusual (and very exciting!) to find someone who is actively
aware of and interested in meanings of energy in these multiple

I don’t know what you think about these ideas, and I’m hopeful that
the ideas that I’m working on might resonate with your own work.  If
so, perhaps it would be interesting to get together over a cup of
coffee to talk about our performance/research interests, and to see
where they intersect.  I would be very interested in hearing your
“take” on energy, and to learn more about the background to your

It’s wonderful to “meet” you through email, and I hope that our paths
cross sometime soon-ish so that we can share our overlapping interests
in energy!

All best wishes,


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Hi Stephanie,

That’s very interesting that your studies and my performance are so
closely related in content.  This performance grew out of the stated
theme for the Art in Odd places show, that being Ritual, and, the
Energy element came from my initial investigation of 14th St, where
there is a huge Con Edison plant. I wanted the piece to reference that
which is right there in our local environment while also touching on
larger concepts of how we relate to different kinds of energy.
As an artist I try to tap into various elements, the history, multiple
references, live human elements, technology and form.  Different
people will respond to different tangents that they relate to, that
they can understand, or interpret somehow.  I’m so impressed that you
were keyed in to the deeper strains, perhaps even more so than I could


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