For Greta Thunberg, Friday was a remarkable day, as she watched her solo strike from just one year ago flourish into “Week 57” with millions participating across the globe. On Saturday, though, it was back to work as she toured the innovative but troubling “Pollution Pods” created by installation artist Michael Pinsky.
Pinsky’s five geodesic domes contain near-perfect samples of the air quality in cities around the world. They’ve been around for a year or two, but this time Pinsky was invited by the World Health Organization (WHO) to set up in New York City alongside the ongoing United Nations Climate Action Summit.
It was there that Thunberg caught a whiff of New Delhi, faithfully recreated by the artist, left. From the looks of her wrinkled nose, he’s done a fair job of simulating the poor air quality of one of the most polluted cities on the planet.
“In the Pollution Pods, I have tried to distill the whole bodily sense of being in each place,” he explains. “Being in São Paulo seems like a sanctuary compared to New Delhi, until your eyes start to water from the sensation of ethanol, whilst Tautra is unlike any air you’ll have ever breathed before, it is so pure.”
The British artist, referring respectively to the cities in Brazil and Norway, rounds out the five interactive domes with Beijing as well as London – a city that has hosted a Pollution Pod installation, and where leaders are racing to control particulate matter and the overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that threaten success in meeting UK climate change targets.
The Pollution Pods illustrate those challenges with an immersive experience that first began in Norway with Climart, the organization that commissioned Pinsky for the work. Dr. Christian Kloeckner, an environmental psychologist with Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and the co-leader of Climart, said he wanted to investigate how art may have the power to influence climate behavior.
So Pinsky – described by Climart as an urban planner, activist and researcher as well as artist – carefully mixed the “recipe” for each city, with its ozone level, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide that pollute it. The design is meant to travel as an exhibit so that people like Thunberg can share the experience and why change is urgent.
“It is a very strong, immediate, visceral impact on you,” says Pinsky. He said he designed the domes to deliver the same feeling one gets when traveling and arriving suddenly in a completely different climate setting: It hits you in the face.
Climart and Pinsky want people to readily understand the threats of toxic air and choose to make it better, even if they can’t see it.
“In the West, in cities such as London, one in five children suffer from asthma. Whilst in the developing countries such as Delhi, over half the children have stunted lung development and will never completely recover,” the group says. “However, this pollution is difficult to understand through images, as the smog of such as Delhi seems almost romantic and much of the most dangerous toxins are not visible at all.”