GaiaStage is an activist research project in response to climate change — It explores the possibilities of direct action through appropriated infrastructure in the field of performing arts and the music industry.


Imagine you are a musician, actor, or public person and you want to address a large audience about climate change. By stepping onto the stage and grabbing a mic, you are actually adding to the problem. Performance stages are infrastructures with a large carbon footprint. So even if artists and performers would like to make a difference, the need for a performance infrastructure makes their work part of the problem they would like to help resolve. What is more, the reliance on non-sustainable infrastructure poses a credibility issue for campaigners. And in the absence of alternatives, we — performers and audiences alike, feel disenfranchised from the technologies required for our own practises. A situation which often leads to a stark choice between denial or despair.

Alternatively, GaiaStage is a zero-carbon performance stage for music and other performances. Its main power source is pedal-power, provided by the participating audience: Encouraged to travel to the site by bicycle, members of the audience dock their own bikes to a number of generator-stations. By pedalling their bikes on those stations they provide the electrical energy for the off-grid infrastructure — audio amplification, the light-show, and other electrical appliances. Throughout the event, the performers need to motivate the volunteers who pedal to provide enough electrical power to sustain the performance.

To avoid the use of chemical batteries with their own set of sustainability issues, and as an important visual element, GaiaStage buffers the kinetic energy provided by the cyclists kinetically in a flywheel:

The collective action of the cyclists make the wheel turn faster, while the performers use of electricity (by playing electric instruments, for example), slows it down (see details below).

As a political project of direct action, GaiaStage addresses the credibility-issues facing environmentally conscious performers and their audiences. GaiaStage not only makes performance events more environmentally sustainable, but thematises energy consumption as a part of its performance practise. This secondary, propositional nature of the project forms the basis of GaiaStage an activist music research project.

Although there are some interesting layers of technical development involved in this project, it does not introduce any novel technologies: Rather, we are interested in technology as a practice: Based on what Lucy Suchman calls socio-material arrangements [1], we hypothesise that through the participative, kinetic engagement between audience and performers, by making the infrastructure dependent on the human body, we can re-conceptualise technology as something other than an accumulation of "gadgets" which define our actions. We will demonstrate that technology is a practice in which we negotiate our position through participation [2].

Through GaiaStage’s experimental/experiential setup, we appropriate the stage infrastructure and re-invent it in a fashion which is empowering, embodied, sustainable, ethical and — last not least, fun.


But, one may ask, what’s in a name? ”Gaia Stage” refers to a reading of James Lovelocks Gaia Hypotheses [3] whereby our technical actions make or break the potentially resilient balance between all contributing actants on our planet [4]. In this sense, we intend to provide a voice to Gaia through performers, actors and activists who want to speak up for a sustainable future in a sustainable way.

Although we are not aware of any other pedal–powered performance stages in Finland, the concept is not new, and in the UK, for example, alternative energy-stages have been touring the festival circuit for many years, some of them pedal-powered. Some pedal-power equipment is also commercially available in the US [5], and in Low-Tech circles the generator bike is a perennial subject of discussion [6].

To establish GaiaStage is thus a timely and original idea, and the introduction of a water-filled Glywheel as buffer storage might, in the context of performance stages, be a worldwide first. Yet, our motivation is the one of activist researchers as much as developers — it is truly interdisciplinary.

Another level of complexity becomes evident through a stakeholder analysis of GaiaStage. We found 3 groups: Firstly, there are the “endusers” comprised of, interestingly, the audience and the performers. They constitute the GaiaStage practice, yet they can not directly make it happen. The second group of stakeholders, are, in business-parlance, what is called B2B, that is business-to-business stakeholders, i.e., event organisers, artists agencies, venue owners and other performance-stage providers. For them, GaiaStage is a service provider with whom to forge alliances — or to be in competition with. The third group is the (activist) research community: This third group relies on the former two groups to sustain GaiaStage as an operation, or there is simply nothing to research. Hence, it is essential that GaiaStage is a success technically, as much as economically, to remain a sustainable research object/subject.

In order to keep GaiaStage going beyond academic funding-lifecycles, we founded GaiaStage Ry, a not for profit association. We hope it will run the stage beyond the research project we apply for funding for here (See also “GaiaStage as an organisation” below).

Research Questions

The research questions arising through GaiaStage’s experimental/experiential setup are manifold. As is the nature of practice based research, it is not impossible that other questions might emerge as the research progresses, and we want to stay open to such occurrences. We isolated four main research questions (and their objectives) which cover the field of possible questions to some extent, without restricting our scope too narrowly at this early stage.

As we have not found any academic literature on any such projects, we hope to fill a real gap by interviewing people who are/were active in the “green” festival scene in Europe.

Also, we plan to organise an international symposium on performance practices and sustainable infrastructures where we want to find more answers to this first question and also help to contribute to a virtually non-existent body of work on the subject.

Participant observation at GaiaStage events as well as more formal interviews with participants and open questioned questionnaires will give answers to this, as will an exchange with other practitioners.

It could be expected that particular types of performances lend themselves better to GaiaStage than others. But only through the events themselves we will know more.

The last two questions are of a conceptual philosophical nature. What makes it interesting is to link it to GaiaStage’s practise, again, by taking part, by taking field notes and interviewing participants.


Besides activist research methods [7] We apply several other ones, and, in keeping with the principles of emergent research design we reserve the right to add others if our Gindings suggest it would be useful to. The methodological commonality, the working hypothesis, is that we situate GaiaStage at the intersections of social- technical- and artistic practices (see Figure 1). Consequently, Gield notes, participant observation, participatory design, and discourse analysis can take note of actants, actors and interactions on an equal footing.¨

It is due to this Actor-Network Theory approach, that we question the clear delimitation of a “social” and a “material” realm.

Fig 1. Intersections

But as can be seen from the Venn diagram in Figure 1, we are interested in the intersection of the “social” and the “material”, not in either of them in their “pure form” which makes their (non)existence to some extent a moot point. The intersection we are interested in is “socio-material arrangements, a term coined by Lucy Suchman in [1] to describe machines.

To summarise, we hypothesise that socio-material practices conceptualised from within this intersection, leads to socially more just and more sustainable infrastructure and thus empowers participants to take responsibility for technological interactions.

Our use of the intersectionality concept might be met with criticism also from within activism: American activist Lorna Salzman for example, criticises the use of intersectionality in an article on in an article with the title “Why Climate Change and Social Justice Must be Addressed Separately”, with the argument that the science behind climate change is non-arbitrary but the social policy responses are[8].

This type of criticism disregards that what we do with science in technological practises is arbitrary, human action, an aspect intrinsic to our work. In our use of intersections we’re not mixing the apples and pairs of social practice and “natural science,” as the above criticism implies, but the apples and apples of social practice and technological practice. It’s hard to see how we could do something about climate change without taking arbitrary, human action which is bound to have social consequences. Global warming is a consequence of our actions.


[1] Lucy Suchman and Lucy A. Suchman, Human-Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Actions, ser. Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive and Computational Perspectives. Cambridge University Press, 2007

[2] Schlienger, D. Developing ALPS – Notes on Agency in Technology Doctoral thesis. Taideyliopiston Sibelius-Akatemia 2022.

[3] Jame E. Lovelock, The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of Our Living Earth, ser. A Commonwealth Fund book. Oxford University Press, 1995.

[4] Bruno Latour and C. Porter. Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime. Wiley, 2017.

[5] The Californian company “Rock The Bike” is the online leader for generator bike technology:

[6] See, for example, the excellent Low-Tech Magazine:

[7] Suoni Ry., Activist music research as a tool for social change

[8] See:

MusAct 2023 10.05.2023 Helsinki