Art has historically been used as a powerful tool for more than just self-expression, as artists and activists have used various artistic mediums to raise awareness for particular causes and issues. More and more art projects and art installations are popping up all over the globe drawing attention to air pollution and environmental issues.
From Hong Kong to Rotterdam to Milan, artists, architects, and scientists are collaborating and innovating together to create unique artistic statements on air pollution. Some of these projects even act as actual pollution fighting art pieces! We highlight a few of these projects and their mission to combat a global issue: air pollution.
Completed for the World Fair in Milan in 2015, this building is not only stunning aesthetically, it also serves a specific function: to clean the air around it. An Italian construction firm developed a biodynamic mortar that uses sunlight to power a catalytic reaction to convert pollutants into harmless salts.
In direct sunlight, the active ingredient in the material “captures” certain pollutants present in the air and converts them into inert salts, helping to purify the atmosphere of smog. Additionally, the mortar is made from 80% recycled aggregates, part of which consist of scraps from the cutting of Carrara marble, and therefore proved a superior brilliance compared to traditional white cements.
In addition to being a pollution-fighter, the building consumes 40% less energy than conventional buildings and has a glass roof containing solar panels. Talk about an environmentally friendly building!
You can watch a short video about the Palazzo Italia here:
Studio Roosegaarde, the artists and innovators behind several other ground breaking projects, developed the world’s first “smog-eating” tower. Their projects always center on a similar theme that explores the relationships between people, technology, and space.
The 23 foot tall tower uses patented ion technology to filter surrounding polluted air. The tower is essentially the world’s largest vacuum cleaner, and is capable of purifying 30,000 cubic meters of polluted air per hour.
Not only is the tower “eating smog” and cleaning the air, a tangible souvenir is also created. Studio Roosegaarde designed Smog Free Rings, Smog Free Cubes, and Smog Free Cufflinks, all made from compressed smog particles that the tower accumulates. According to Studio Roosegaarde, each Smog Free Ring supports the cleaning of 1,000m³ of polluted air.
You can view a short video about the project from Studio Roosegaarde here:
Hong Kong, China
Big data and art converge for this Hong Kong art installation by artist Jiayu Liu. The origami-like flowers fade into different colors, representing an air quality gauge of sorts.
Liu ‘feeds’ the flowers with statistics on haze, smog, and other emissions, translating the numerical air quality data into a colorful visual representation.
Watch the installation in action in this short video:
San Jose, CA, United States
Travelling around the world for some time now, this art installation shows a real-time visual representation of air quality data. Against a background of falling blue light, spots of colorful light appear when there is a presence of particulate matter, detected by a nearby air monitor. The more falling blue light and less bright spots, the less particles in the air.
Andrea Polli, the digital media artist behind this project, is known to merge science and art together to address just how connected the natural world and man-made systems are. Most of Polli’s projects focus on environmental issues and she has often collaborated with scientists and environmentalists to create her projects.
Probably the most interesting aspect of this installation is that it operates on a real-time basis, so the bright spots representing air pollution particles are present in the air you’re breathing while you view the installation.
The original installation occurred in San Jose, CA, and you can watch a short video on it here:
Copenhagen, Denmark/Dakar, Senegal
Nigerian artist Bright Ugochukwu Eke was inspired by the air pollution from oil exploration in Nigeria’s delta region to create this stunning installation. Acid Rain was included in the RETHINK exhibition in Copenhagen during the UN Climate Change Conference in 2010 and features roughly 6,000 plastic hanging bags filled with water and carbon dust from the Nigerian delta region.
Originally created for the Dakar Biennale of Contemporary African Art in Senegal, Eke’s installation draws on his own personal experience coming into contact with toxic rainfall in the heavily polluted Port Harcourt. He developed a skin irritation from the acid rain due to local industrial pollution. In addition to the particulate matter used to fill the bags, Eke explains how important it was for him to include water as a metaphorical material for this project:
Water is a universal medium. It’s common to everybody, no matter who or where you are. Whatever I do with water is what every other person does with it in every part of the world. The most interesting part is that we are bound or connected by [water] and having perceived this interconnectedness and interdependence of humans and nature, and having felt the damage, the separateness, and barriers we have created selfishly and egoistically, I thought it pertinent to find ways through which we could ameliorate or proffer some solutions to some of these […] I thought of a common language in nature. That brought me to the language of water.
Eke describes his artistic inspiration as coming from everyday life and in particular the human-earth connection of how different people and cultures treat the earth. This particular piece of work is meant to highlight what he feels is a complete disregard for the environment by authorities and individuals.
What started as merely a school project has turned into quite the statement on pollution and the environment. Design student Chiu Chih’s “Survival Kit for the Ever Changing Planet” is a simple idea. It is a backpack that cleans the air for you when pollution is bad. And the air pollution in China tends to be bad frequently. The project became an internet sensation when the images from his project showed an unaltered landscape, full of air pollution, trash, and rubble. Chih’s design project definitely leaves a lot to be considered when it comes to the world we live in and the air we breathe:
While he says the project was “absolutely” inspired by the air pollution problem in China, he also says he doesn’t want its message to only be about the environment. Instead, it’s about the same adaptability that caused him to leave his hometown, the qualities of resilience that it takes to survive now and in the future.
For four hours a day during a four month period, Beijing based artist-activist Wang Renzheng walked the streets of his home city with an industrial vacuum cleaner sucking up the air around him. What seemed like an absurd stunt had a harrowing outcome: he had collected enough smog that could be compressed into a tangible brick-like object.
As studies and reports have estimated that three to seven million deaths a year are caused by air pollution, Renzheng wanted to show just how devastating the air pollution problem in Beijing is and how people need to know about it:
I want to show this absurdity to more people. I want people to see that we cannot avoid or ignore this problem.
When the project was finished and beginning to create media buzz, Beijing’s air quality index reached the ‘red’ level, indicating that pollution levels were considered dangerously unhealthy. Schools and roads were closed due to airborne particulate matter and a decrease in visibility.
Renzheng hopes his ‘absured’ demonstration of walking around Beijing with a vacuum cleaner will bring more attention to the high levels of air pollution the city faces, especially with his tangible smog brick souvenir.
Have you ever seen an artistic installation, structure, or demonstration that focused on air quality and pollution? How was it different from these examples? Let us know!