'Pollution Pods' art exhibit sheds light on startling difference in air quality across the globe

By Jillian MacMath, AccuWeather staff writer
April 25, 2018, 4:13:50 PM EDT

A British artist has recreated pollution from cities around the globe to let visitors experience some of the world's worst air quality without leaving London.

Constructed by Michael Pinsky, the installations, called ’Pollution Pods’, arrived at Somerset House in the capital city this week.

The walk-through display consists of five greenhouse-like domes which are pumped with pollutants to mimic the environment in various international cities.

pollution pods

Beginning in the fresh air of Tautra, Norway, visitors wander through the display’s tunnels to inhale the thick, heavily polluted air of London, New Delhi, Beijing and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Using combinations of ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide, Pinsky replicates the smell of each city and the smog and haze that is trapped within them.

Pinsky said: “I was working in Norway with these environmental psychologists with the idea of making a work around climate change. I was moving between London and the north of Norway and I was always amazed at the difference in the quality of the air as I went from one place to the other."

"That was really in the back of my mind as I started thinking about a piece of work that I could make that was relevant to climate change, but also on a topic that touched people in their everyday lives. Here in London, people suffer from the effects of pollution every day."

pollution pods 2

It is estimated that the life of the average Londoner is shortened by up to 16 months when exposed to the current level of pollution.

Meanwhile, the pea soup smog of New Delhi could cost residents around four years of their lifetime.

According to Pinsky, however, it's not how long you live that matters.

He said: "It’s a question of how you live while you’re alive. And that’s where the impact is really, on the quality of your life. What amazes me is we put up with this level of pollution when it’s utterly avoidable."

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Alongside the project, PhD students from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology are gathering data on visitors’ experiences, seeking to determine whether art can have an impact on perceptions and influence behavior.

While data is still being gathered to establish this, Pinsky said he’s hopeful that they'll find it does.

He said: “I think a lot of people are coming out and they're quite shocked, especially if they have never been to New Delhi or they haven't been to China."

"There has been a lot of shock when people start realizing actually people live in these places. They're not just there for five minutes. They have to put up with this day in and day out. It's been quite satisfying seeing people's reactions to that."

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