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Experience Some of the World’s Most Polluted Cities in This Exhibit

The art installation was recently on display in London

smithsonian.com

Do you know what the air quality is like in New Delhi or Beijing? These two cities are known for having some of the worst air pollution, but without visiting, most of us don’t really understand what it’s like to experience it.

British artist Michael Pinsky has given Londoners a taste of both the world’s worst pollution and the best air quality with an exhibition called “Pollution Pods.”

The project consists of five greenhouse-like domes, which are each filled with combinations of ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide to reproduce the air quality in various cities around the world, Jillian MacMath reports for AccuWeather. Each pod also reflects the climate of one of these five cities.

In addition to the smog of New Delhi and Beijing, visitors can experience the pure air of Tautra, Norway, and the moderate air pollution of London, England, and São Paulo, Brazil.

The exhibition was on display April 18-25 outside of London’s Somerset House, with a talk by the artist on Earth Day. The artist opened a similar display last year in the city of Trondheim, Norway.

To recreate each city scent, Pinsky worked with scientists and fragrance specialists. For São Paulo air, Pinsky simulated the ethanol-based fuel used by cars there. “The sensation is to try and make your eyes water, almost,” Stephanie Pilling, a spokesperson for Somerset House tells The Guardian’s Elle Hunt.

London’s pod uses a scent called Living Diesel, while Pinsky worked with an air purification company to recreate the clean Tautra air.

The exhibition was commissioned by Climart, a project by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, that aims to use art as a way to communicate climate change. The group chose Pinsky, whose previous project focused on how issues shape and influence public realm use, to lead the project. He was tasked with reworking “the data of natural science into a more affective visual language,” according to the project website.

Climart hopes the exhibition will help people understand what it means to live with poor air quality. “[T]his 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,” the website states.

As MacMath reports, even exposure to London’s moderately polluted air can cause serious harm. Thanks to the levels of NO2 pollution, the life expectancy of women in London is shortened by around 15.5 months. This increases to around 17 months for men, according to the British think tank Policy Exchange.

The numbers are much worse in Beijing, where residents lose more than six years of their lives, writes Earther’s Brian Kahn. And in New Delhi, residents could lose some nine years compared to life expectancy if air quality met World Health Organization standards.

“What amazes me is we put up with this level of pollution when it’s utterly avoidable," Pinsky tells MacMath. “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."

As Kahn reports, the pods were inspired by architect Buckminster Fuller's’ geodesic domes, which were designed to provide shelter.

Pinsky tells Kahn he chose to place the installation at Somerset House not only because it is a well-known venue but also because it’s one of the most polluted areas.

According to MacMath, PhD students from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology were gathering data during the exhibition on visitors’ experiences to test if the art impacted public perception of pollution.

About Julissa Treviño

Julissa Treviño is a writer and journalist based in Texas. She has written for Columbia Journalism Review, BBC Future, The Dallas Morning News, Racked, CityLab and Pacific Standard.

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