The quality of the air we breathe should be everyone’s concern; unfortunately, too little is done to protect us and our environment.
According to the UN, an estimate of 3.3 million premature deaths every year are attributable to pollutants in the atmosphere, with Britain’s death toll standing at 29,000, making air pollution the most lethal single killer in the world.
To raise awareness of urban air quality, Invisible Dust, an award winning not for profit art and environment organisation based in London, has teamed up with media artist Kasia Molga and professor Frank Kelly from King’s College for Human Sensor, a series of specially choreographed performances across Manchester’s City centre that aims to make the invisible pollutants threatening us and our environment visible. To coincide with the free week-long celebration for Manchester’s year as UK’s first European City of Science (July 23rd – 29th), Human Sensor will showcase Molga’s hi-tech origami-like clothing, designed to illuminate and change colour and pattern, responding to the wearers breathing and air pollution data. Performers modelling the garments will reveal the presence of pollutants such as CO2 and NO2 (carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, gases produced by burning fossil fuels that are extremely detrimental to our health and linked to climate change) to audiences during walks around various locations in the city.
Accompanied by a full programme of related talks and workshops, Human Sensor is curated by Alice Sharp, founder of Invisible Dust, who has kindly agreed to answer a few of our questions.
Hello Alice, thank you for your time; can you briefly introduce yourself and your organisation, Invisible Dust, to our readers?
Hello I’m Alice Sharp I’m the Curator and Director of Invisible Dust. I set up Invisible Dust in 2009 to ‘make the invisible visible’ through artists working with scientists on environmental themes. We commission artists on a wide range of areas, from HighWaterLine Bristol by artist Eve Mosher where the residents chalked a 32 mile line along pavements to illustrate flooding in 2014 to Turner Prize winner Elizabeth Price creating her video SUNLIGHT from a space science residency at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. We are the first and only visual arts organisation to be awarded the Wellcome Trust’s Sustaining Excellence grant for our next 3 years of work.
I would like to ask you about your latest project, Human Sensor. How did it come together? And how did your collaboration with media artist Kasia Molga come about?
I went to a talk Kasia was giving a talk at Future Everything in Manchester and was really interested in her approach and ideas. We got together and she said that air pollution was something she really wanted to make an artwork about. I introduced her to Frank Kelly who is a wonderful Professor at King’s College whose team are developing some of the most advanced air pollution monitoring worldwide. Kasia was keen to develop an idea from her body, she suffers from Asthma and came up with the idea as the body as the sensor as we breathe the pollution in through our mouths and noses.
The costumes she has designed are to take us back to the body and the realization of the physical act of breathing that we all take for granted. She proposed a performance with these new ‘wearables’ and the Sustaining Excellence and an Arts Council grant enabled her to create the work.
Can you give us a preview of what we can expect to see during the week-long programme of performances and collateral events in Manchester?
It will be an exciting but also though provoking as the performers costumes are very striking. They reach from the waist to the shoulders and are white with a grid of undulating 3D patterns running across them and their mouth pieces make them look very futuristic.
The idea is that they will illustrate how air pollution changes during our daily commute, that is its much worse than other times in the day. They will also show how it varies from a quiet street or pedestrian area to a large junction where it will be higher. As they walk along the Manchester city streets the costumes will change colour. At the end of each performance through the streets they will perform for 15 minutes in a city square – Sadlers Yard. On the final day she will be joined by sound artist and composer Scanner and they will perform at Halle St Peters in the evening. All details are on humansenor.eu.
Can you talk us through how the hi-tech garments designed by Kasia Molga work?
The costumes light up with varying colours from the data that Frank’s team have collected on the specific street a short time before. The data is collected by the scientific instruments and then uploaded and the data file is then fed into the costumes by Kasia and dictates which lights go on and off. The sensors and lights have been hand stitched into different under layers of the costumes. Each performer carries a battery pack. The air pollution data is also shown on the website so you can see live the persons progress and what the air pollution level is by different colours on the Manchester map. This is done with geo location. So at a traffic light the costumes will light up with a particular air pollution gas increasing, for example PM10 might make them go red. The performers breathing will also be fed into sensors on the costume so the costumes will react, colours move etc with their actual breathing.
As a last question, what other projects have you got in the pipeline for the near future?
We are hoping to take Human Sensor to a number of international locations we have interest in the US and India currently. Next year we are also curating an large exhibition The Sea with Ferens Art Gallery and Hull Maritime Museum exploring Hull’s role as a maritime port and the state of our oceans as part of Hull City of Culture 2017.
Human Sensor will launch Saturday 23rd July; performers will leave at 21:20 from 70 Oxford Road, Manchester M1 5NH; the performance will end at 22:20, at Sadler’s Yard, Manchester, M60 0AB. More information can be found here.