Art Installation Recreates the Smell of Cities Around the World

The Pollution Pod project emphasizes the unequal air quality divide between rich and poor cities

Pollution Pods
Michael Pinsky

Some cities just have a scent all their own—whether its diesel fumes and baguettes baking in the early morning in Paris or the musty humidity and spilled beer of New Orleans. Now, Mindy Weisberger at LiveScience reports, one artist is recreating those scents for a Norway festival this weekend in the city of Trondheim.

The Pollution Pods installation is a collaboration between British artist Michael Pinsky and Climart, a project that studies ways to visualize and communicate climate change. According to a press release, the Pollution Pods exhibit consists of six connected geodesic domes, each one representing the scent and air quality of a city with each air quality getting progressively worse.

Visitors will pass through London, Trondheim, São Paulo, Cairo, Beijing and New Delhi. The idea is to give visitors a true feeling of what living in these cities is like. The piece is also living—as researchers will be observing how people react to the installation.

“What are the psychological effects when people encounter climate art? That’s what we want to find out,” Christian A. Klöckner, head of the Norway-based project, says in the press release.

Art lovers aren't actually going to be breathing in polluted air, Weisberger reports. Instead the scent and feeling of the cities are created by a combo of fragrances and harmless ingredients mixed by the Norwegian Institute for Air Research. “London is primarily diesel fumes,” Pinsky tells Weisberger. “Delhi is a cocktail of almost everything imaginable — crop burning, diesel, rubbish burning (plastic) and dust. Beijing is a combination of industrial smells (sulfur), coal and wood burning, which is used for heating. And São Paulo has a smell like vinegar, since they use ethanol for transportation.”

Host city Trondheim gets little better PR: its dome smells like sea air and pine trees.

On his blog, Pinksy says the installation also highlights the gap between the industrialized world and developing nations. While people in industrialized nations live in relatively clean cities, he writes, those in places like India and China where most of our goods and gadgets are produced experience pollution and children suffer asthma and lung disorders.

“The experience of walking through the pollution pods demonstrates that these worlds are interconnected and interdependent,” writes Pinsky. “The desire for ever cheaper goods is reflected in the ill-health of many people in world and in the ill-health of our planet as a whole. Within this installation we will be able to feel, taste and smell the toxic environments that are the norm for a huge swathe of the world’s population.”

The installation opens June 18 and runs until June 23.

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