Today, climate change is very much at the forefront of the media. Every day we’re exposed to more data, case studies and online petitions for global warming. However, this enormous amount of information is hard to digest and understand. What makes us care about our planet enough to change our behaviour? A group of researchers believe art is the answer.

Climart brings together international researchers in psychology, the natural sciences and the arts to explore the question “Can visual art affect viewer perceptions of climate change?” To help answer this question, they commissioned the artist Michael Pinsky to create an art installation about climate change.

Pollution Pods

Michael Pinsky’s Pollution Pods is a visceral artwork that places the audience directly into the global issue of climate change. Pinsky’s autumn newsletter perfectly describes this installation, recently located at the World Health Organisation‘s first global conference on air pollution held at the Place des Nations from 30th October to 1st November, 2018:

“A series of domes will recreate the pollution from London, Beijing, São Paulo, New Delhi and Tautra in Norway. Forming a ring in the centre of the iconic Place des Nations, visitors will pass through the climatically controlled pods to compare the quality of polluted global environments.  All five Pollution Pods are linked, so that one has to pass through all of them in order to exit the installation.  This visceral experience encapsulates the sense that the world – and our own impact on it – is interconnected.”

First-hand experience

Our Arts and Environments lead, Cleo Evans, assisted with the transportation and installation of the Pollution Pods to the Place des Nations in Geneva, and then to Germany. We caught up with her to find out how the public and conference attendees reacted to the Pollution Pods, and her experiences transporting the work:

In your own words, please could you tell us a little bit about Michael Pinksy’s ‘Pollution Pods’

The pods are five interconnecting geometric domes which the visitor walks through to experience the different types of pollution that affect the world. The five cities selected were London, Bejing, New Delhi, San Paulo and Tautra (Norway). The smells in each pod were created by a Perfumer who based their concoctions on the smell of each city.  Tautra was chosen as a comparison as it is currently the cleanest country in the world. London has a huge problem with diesel emissions and if diesel was reduced it would be considered a clean city. In New Delhi, a lot of the pollution derives from the poor economics in this city. A lot of people cook on wood, coal and kerosene which creates pollution. San Paulo has a lot of manufacturing and industry which effect this cities’ pollution levels.

Where have the Pollution Pods been situated?

The original installation took place in Tautra, Norway. The birch wood that makes up the structure of the pods was grown here. The Pollution Pods were then exhibited outside of Somerset House in London. This caused some controversy because under 12 year olds were not allowed in. This was a strange response considering they are exposed to London air all of the time and the art installation doesn’t contain real pollution. The tour I worked on went to the Place de Nations Geneva, Switzerland and outside the Klimat House Bremerhaven , Germany.

How did the public react to the installation?

In Geneva, it was a fantastic opportunity for the delegates and public to experience the pollution ‘first hand’ and it generated a lot of debate. The majority of visitors were shocked at the levels of pollution, and the most common question was “what’s the pollution levels in my country?” Their response to the answer was very interesting. People were very relieved if their particular city was on the lower end of the scale, even though it was way above the recommended safety limit.  This is because some of the cities had such high pollution levels, so in comparison theirs seemed low. It has almost become an acceptance that we have to live in polluted air and that we can not do much about it.  People also did not immediately see that we all share the same air, so discussions were instigated and examples given of how your country can still be polluted even if the governance is responsible.  For example, Bhutan has 95% renewable power supplies; they base their economy on happiness, not capitalism and they very much look after their lands and have many trees.  However when you check some of Bhutan’s cities data they have very highly polluted air because of the polluted air seeping in from India.

Historically, it has been hard to understand exactly what climate change is. It’s such a big subject that is hard to get to grips with. This installation broke it down and made it real, relatable and immediate. We all want to breath clean air. Since Geneva, there has now been interest from various countries who also want to show it. The World Economic Forum were very interested and want to present it to the policy makers at the United Nations.

What was your role?

My role was to transport it and install it. I also helped with crowd control and I talked with public and delegates.

How did you transport the work and was it a difficult process?

I drove a 7.5 tonne truck solo across Europe:  first to Geneva, Switzerland and then to Bremerhaven in Germany. On return I had a co driver and we visited 5 countries in one day – Breakfast in Germany; Coffee in Belgium; Lunch in Holland; Supper in France and a hot chocolate in the UK! It wasn’t difficult in itself, what was difficult was the timings. I had to get to each venue in time, ready for the rigging of it. But I loved it and it was fun to drive such a big truck, being high up looking at the Autumnal trees.

What is it like working with Michael Pinsky?

Great, we had fun.  Michael is very articulate, down to earth and also particular, which is very important. Attention to detail makes a lot of difference. He was easy to be with good company.

You can hear more about the Pollution Pods and the research they’ve contributed to in Radio 4’s ‘Costing the Earth’ show.

Pollution Pods was originally commissioned by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology for Climart and has been built with the support of BuildwithHubsPollution Pods has received funding from Arts Council England. The tour of Pollution Pods is managed by Cape Farewell.