In New Delhi, the heat is oppressive, with burning pyres of rubbish assaulting your nose. In São Paulo and Beijing, thick smog shrouds the city and stings your eyes. In London, the diesel engines of black cabs have become the ambient background noise of the capital. Yet on the quiet shores of Norway's Tautra island, the air is clean and delicately perfumed with pine.
These locales are central to British artist Michael Pinsky's
new work. For "Pollution Pods," Pinsky has painstakingly recreated the air quality, smell and temperature of each one in a series of connected domes, now on display in the Norwegian city of Trondheim. Until July 7, visitors to Pinsky's highly sensory installation will go on a virtual trip around the world -- so long as they sign the health disclaimer beforehand.
The shape of Pinsky's pollution pods is an ode to Buckminster Fuller, the celebrated architect who pioneered the geodesic dome
and wrote extensively about climate change. It is also a nod to the efforts of the Italian architect Paolo Soleri, who attempted to create an eco-utopian city in the Arizona desert in the 1970s.
The installation is the apex of Climart
, a four-year scientific project that aims to uncover whether visual art can change people's perceptions around climate change. Conducted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), the venture needed an artwork to rigorously study, and chose Pinsky's proposal out of 120 global submissions.
The constructed "Pollution Pods" in Trondheim, Norway Credit: Courtesy Michael Pinsky
Visitors to Pinsky's installation will complete extensive surveys, the results of which will be analyzed and contributed to a paper that will be published this December to conclude the research.
"My job is to do an artwork in the way I always do and not to alter it because of the study, otherwise it makes the study unsound," said Pinsky, who was privy to more two years' worth of Climart's research.
The artist as agitator
By posing challenging and often controversial questions through their work, artists have often been the left-field propagators of wider social and political change. Pinsky himself identifies as one such figure.
"My work has always been quite political," he said. "My primary objective is about pushing the boundaries of what art can do and how it functions on a political, intellectual and aesthetic level."
1/13 – Ink made from soot
India-based Graviky Labs uses polluted air to create paint and ink. Credit: courtesy tiger beer
The Climart team came to him with data they'd collected from studying audience responses to more than 37 environmentally conscious artworks during the 2015 ArtCOP festival in Paris. The team went so far as to measure the electrical brain activity of a select handful of participants.
Over the course of his work, Christian A. Klöckner, the environmental psychologist heading Climart, has discovered that Pinsky is part of a wider global movement.
"So far in our studies, we have found that artists are increasingly responding to the threat of climate change within their work. What we expect to see in this project is that art, which is less dogmatic than scientific texts or political discussion, speaks to people on a more emotional level," he said.
Whether art can actively elicit change remains to be seen. But with the continued threat of climate change, and the US expected to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, Klöckner and Pinsky's project will at the very least, spark crucial debate. For Klöckner, it's a humble start for a much bigger mission.
"The most important thing in this project is to understand whether art can change the behavior of people and perhaps, from our studies, artists will take up our ideas and use them in the creation of new art pieces," he said.