Will a new London art installation help improve air quality?
As a Londoner, I love the diversity of the city and the amount of cultural events and experiences that I have access to, with the latest to grab both my attention and the news, being the installation of Air quality pods at Somerset House.
Artist Michael Pinsky has created a circle of five geodesic domes, which allow anyone entering them to experience the polluted environments in five cities across the globe.
And that really interests me because, as a Londoner and someone who cares about the environment, I am acutely aware of the issue of air quality in our capital city.
From green to unclean
Walking through the pods begins with one that recreates the clean, green air of Tautra island, Norway, which uses an air purification process to strip it of pollutants.
Visitors can then continue through the cities of London, New Delhi, Beijing and São Paulo, all of which suffer from some of the world’s lowest air qualities.
Each pod’s climate is separately controlled to provide an exact representation of the temperature and air quality in each city and this includes the fragrance. Artist Pinksy is reported as saying he has: “tried to distil the whole bodily sense of being in each place.”
Three heaters create the oppressive heat of New Delhi and a haze machine adds ‘smog’ to hang in the pod, recreating the smell of old cars and industry. I didn’t see many people linger in this pod for long.
The São Paulo pod contains enough ethanol to make people’s eyes water, whilst the London pod had a fragrance that the artist has called ‘living diesel’ – a smell I know too well.
There’s a point beyond art here
Each pod has been created to replicate the varying levels of ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter in each of these cities.
London’s pod is full of the invisible, but deadly nitrogen, whereas New Delhi’s air is filled with a haze full of airborne particles.
Studies suggest that the average Londoner could be losing around 16 months of their life due to exposure to current pollution levels. For New Delhi residents, the pollution could shorten their lives by up to 4 years!
So the whole aim of the installation is to increase awareness of the problems of pollution and air quality in our cities and, when you consider that in the not too distant future, the majority of humanity is predicted to live in densely populated, urban environments, then air quality is something we need to be aware of – and need to do something about.
So what can we do?
Solving the problem of poor air quality in our cities will require a concerted effort from government, business and manufacturers, so that we can remove vehicles using older polluting diesel and clean up our external spaces.