Will this change your mind about climate change?

The art installation that could change people’s perception around pollution

“We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common,” American architect, inventor, futurist and geodesic dome creator Richard Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller remarked during the 42-hour lecture series Everything I Know in 1975.

Over 30 years later, British artist Michael Pinsky has taken that sentiment and built it into his own set of domes, an immersive installation titled Pollution Pods which was due to take over the courtyard at Somerset House on 22 April; Earth Day. “The idea was to create an installation that directly impacts on the bodily sense, smell and touch, to see if this could change people’s perception around pollution and climate change,” the artist told VICE.

Pollution Pods was originally commissioned by Climart, a four-year multidisciplinary research project launched in 2014 by a team of researchers from the Institute of Psychology at NTNU, Trondheim in Norway. Pinsky’s installation will form the foundations of a study by a group of environment psychologists into art’s role in the debate around man’s impact on the environment. So far, the pods have been exhibited at Trondheim. Next, they will be installed at Somerset House.

“I have always been interested in ecology and transportation and have had an antagonistic relationship with cars and the petrol engine,” Pinsky admits. In Plunge, the artist marked the sea level predicted for 3012 on well-known London monuments, while Come Hell or High Water saw a fleet of cars partially drowned in Newcastle’s river Tyne. “For the last fifty years, our cities and the countryside have been designed around the driver with little thought about how this impacts on others,” Pinsky says. “The extraction of fossil fuels and the use of cars has had a significant effect on climate change and now our awareness of how pollutants from car exhausts effect our health is growing. As this is an everyday concern of mine, it seems natural to make artworks that deal with these issues.”

Wander through each of Pollution Pods’ five interconnected geodesic domes and you’ll find yourself experiencing the temperature, smells and air quality of New Delhi, San Paolo, Beijing, Tautra — a Norwegian island in the Trondheim Fjord — and London. “The Norwegian dome is pleasant with filtered air and aromas of a pine forest and a sea breeze,” Pinsky, who identifies as artist, urban planner, activist, researcher and resident, explains. “London is cooler and damper with an overpowering smell of combusted diesel. New Delhi is hot and humid, has low visibility and smells of burnt rubbish, burnt crops and diesel. Beijing is cold, humid and smells of burnt coal and sulphur, the visibility is also low. Sao Paolo is a pleasantly warm temperature but smells of ethanol because they use ethanol as a transportation fuel.” As Pinsky points out, while the Norwegian people benefit from global commerce, they do not suffer from the impact of mass production and mass transportation in their daily lives. “I thought it would be interesting to expose them to the air of some of the most polluted cities in the world such as New Delhi, to make them consider how their own lifestyles may be contributing to this pollution,” he says.

It has worked. “In Norway, many people were profoundly shocked, but also relieved that they didn’t face this pollution in their daily lives,” Pinksy muses. Norway is widely considered the world leader when it comes to electric cars: a third of new cars sold in the country in 2017 were plug-ins run predominantly from hydropower generated within the country. “I think the response in London will be very different since anyone living in London has to endure pollution every day,” he adds.

By using art to show rather than tell, Michael Pinsky hopes to ignite social change on personal and political levels. “I hope to keep the discussion around climate change and air pollution prominent in the minds of the public and the policy makers,” he says. “Through experiencing the artworks and through the projects being disseminated through the media this can be achieved.”


by Bryony Stone

Photography by Tom Skipp