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Visitors will breathe in the pollution of different cities in upcoming Michael Pinsky installation

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Artist Michael Pinsky’s upcoming installation at London’s Somerset House will see visitors breathe in the air pollution of five different cities. The piece comprises a series of geodesic domes whose air quality, smell and temperature accurately recreates that of London, Beijing, Sāo Paulo, New Delhi and Tautra, a remote peninsula of Norway. It opens to coincide with Earth Day on 22 April, and aims to test whether art can change people’s perceptions of, and actions around, climate change.

The Pollution Pods, made in conjunction with atmospheric chemistry experts Airlabs, will form a ring in the centre of Somerset House’s main courtyard, and visitors will pass through each climatically controlled pod, so as to compare the air of the five global environments. Screens (below) will display readings about the air in each pod. All potentially harmful gases will be removed from the Tautra pod to allow visitors to experience truly clean air, before walking through the following polluted pods.

According to the team behind the project, London’s air does not meet the World Health Organisation’s recommended standard yet is far cleaner than New Delhi’s, the most polluted of the group. It is estimated that the average Londoner, exposed to the current levels of pollution recreated in the installation, would lose up to 16 months of their life, with a resident of New Delhi cutting their life short by 4 years.

“In the Pollution Pods, I have tried to distil the whole bodily sense of being in each place,” says Michael. “For instance, 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.” Michael has worked with a range of specialists on the London installation, including olfactory expert Lizzie Ostrom, aka Odette Toilette, who found a manufacturer of combusted diesel scent and will engineer its dissipation into the atmosphere; and Netherlands-based company I Scent, which has helped generate the smells of burnt plastic, burnt grass, burnt coal and burnt wood.

Environmental psychologist Christian A. Kloeckner says of the installation: "We believe that only by immersing oneself in this kind of art environment, which engenders a physical and an emotional response, can one hope to shift behavioural patterns.”

Pollution Pods opens 18 – 24 April 2018 at Somerset House, London.

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