Press Release

Press Release Swiss Federal Office of Culture / Swiss Embassy Cairo / Pro Helvetia / December 2008

Christina Hemauer | Roman Keller

Providing Switzerland’s official contribution to the 11th International Cairo Biennale, Swiss artist duo Christina Hemauer and Roman Keller are exhibiting «No1 Sun Engine», an artwork consisting of several parts. Under the general theme «The Other», this year’s Biennale has asked artists to engage in an artistic dialogue on the familiar versus the unknown and to ponder the issue of bridges and interaction between cultures. Christina Hemauer and Roman Keller have responded to the challenge by focusing on an episode in the history of energy which has direct links to both Cairo and our present.

The artists
When we talk about the factors which have influenced the history of humankind, one concept claims more and more of our attention: energy. An invisible force with a wide range of sources and uses, energy is perceived as the driving force behind all life, from individual vitality and artistic creativity on one end of the spectrum to the geopolitical power struggles of the modern age for the last remaining oil reserves on the other. Adopting a fundamentally artistic approach, Christina Hemauer and Roman Keller have investigated the concept of energy for several years. One of their main areas of interest is the history of oil and its competing alternatives, notably solar energy. Thus the artist duo heralded the era of «Postpetrolism» for the arts with a manifesto and a performance in the year 2006 ( The following year, their video installation «A Curiosity, a Museum Piece and an Example of a Road Not Taken» recalled Jimmy Carter’s early and ultimately futile efforts to promote alternative forms of energy generation as symbolised by the installation of solar collectors on the roof of the White House.

In their projects, the artists make use of the whole range of expressive means of modern art: re-enactment as an instrument for realization and revitalising key historical moments, performance as a method for direct inclusion of the public, as well as video, image and text for the purpose of visualization. The revival of historical moments through artistic display does not aim merely at illuminating episodes brought to a conclusion in the past but, on the contrary, focuses on the power to act in and for the present. It provides an opportunity to go back to the point in time where the paths separated and to revitalise the events and their relevance for the here and now on the basis of the vast potential and freedom provided by art. Thus documentation and re-enactment as used by numerous contemporary artists including Christina Hemauer and Roman Keller are not to be construed as research conducted for the historical archive, nor are they intended as didactic plays on the causal laws of historic events. Rather, the idea is to pick up the thread from the past epoch so that it can be woven into all sorts of conceivable and inconceivable textures of the present.

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 (

In connection with the Swiss Biennale contribution, the following publication has appeared: Sun of 1913. Christina Hemauer, Roman Keller. With a text in English and Arabic by Wageh George. Published by the Swiss Federal Office of Culture, Berne: 2008 (ISBN 978-3-9523148-6-9)



Monday, 15 December 2008, 4 pm to 6 pm
Inauguration of the information kiosk (6th Street 101, Maadi, Cairo) and buffet.

Tuesday, 16 December to Thursday, 25 December 2008, 11 am – 5 pm
The manned information kiosk situated at the plant’s original location (6th Street 101, Maadi, Cairo) will be open for ten days. Visitors and passersby are asked to contribute their recollections of the fate of the power station.

Saturday, 20 December 2008, 12 noon
Opening ceremony of the 11th Cairo Biennale. In the Palace of Arts, Zamalek, the installation «No1 Sun Engine» will be on display in the open air, whereas pictures will be shown in the exhibition rooms. The small artists’ book «Sun of 1913» will be available free of charge.




For Arabic media: Ayman A. Hussein, ayman[at], +0127 83 74 53
Otherwise: Christina Hemauer | Roman Keller, kiosk[at], +0175 75 72 73 40 until 3/1/2009, thereafter +41 79 69 19 836



Christina Hemauer
Born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1973

1993-1998 | Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from the Zurich University of Arts
1996 | Advanced Studies at the Academy of Arts Gent / Belgium

Roman Keller
Born in Liestal, Switzerland in 1969

1997-98 | Visiting student at Karlsruhe University of Applied Science and Arts, professorship for art photography, Candida Höfer
1996-1998 | Training as a photographer, Gaf, Zurich; International Center of Photography (ICP); School of Visual Art (SVA), New York
1989-1995 | Master’s degree in Environmental Sciences from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ETH Zurich

Joint exhibitions
2008 | «No1 Sun Engine», 11th Cairo International Biennale, Egypt
2008 | «L‘Energia siamo noi – Studio Frauenfeld», Neuer Shed im Eisenwerk, Frauenfeld / Switzerland
2008 | «Moral Imagination», Current Positions in Contemporary Art in the Face of Global Warming, Museum of Art of the Canton Thurgau / Switzerland
2008 | «The Invasion of the Laughing Jackass», Swiss Art Awards, Basel / Switzerland
2007/08 | «Ökomedien/Ecomedia», Edith Russ Site for Media Art, Oldenburg / Germany and Plug-in, New Media Art Institution in Basel / Switzerland
2007 | «Nettoyage énergétique», Fri-Art, Contemporary Art Centre Fribourg / Switzerland
2007 | «A Manifestation, a Dedication and a Place to Get the Word out», Swiss Art Awards, Basel / Switzerland
2007 | «A Curiosity, a Museum Piece and an Example of a Road Not Taken», Fri-Art, Contemporary Art Centre Fribourg / Switzerland
2006 | «At This Place, Postpetrolism Was Heralded on 27 April 2006», Exhibition Space Kunsthof, Zurich / Switzerland
2005 | «Nachtfalten» [Night Folding], two-part exhibition in K3 project space, Zurich / Switzerland
2005 | «Promenade», Cafe Gallery, London / United Kingdom
2005 | «Let Us Share the Concept of Human Powered Art Platforms», Coleman Project Space, London / United Kingdom
2005 | «Vereinigte alternative Energien (aus: Auch die Kunst lebt von der Hoffnung)» [United Alternative Energies (from the series: Art too Lives on Hope] within the temporary occupation «Shantytown», Zurich / Switzerland
2003-05 | «-or-o7o», series of independent art happenings in public spaces, Zurich / Switzerland

Jointly awarded grants / fellowships
2008 | Swiss Art Award
2007 | Art Fellowship of the Canton of Zurich / Switzerland

Joint publications
2008 | «Sun of 1913», published by the Swiss Federal Office of Culture / Switzerland
2008 | «Moral Imagination», Art and Climate, published by Verlag für Moderne Kunst Nürnberg / Germany
2007 | «Ökomedien/Ecomedia – Ecological Strategies in Today’s Art» published by Hatje Cantz Verlag / Germany
2007 | «Day after Day» Catalogue 2003-2007, Contemporary Art Centre Fri-Art, Fribourg / Switzerland
2007 | «The Whole Truth» by Max Andrews, Frieze Issue 108, London / United Kingdom
2005 | «Fluff – Antifluff» FashNriot3, artist book, London / United Kingdom