Imagine breathing polluted New Delhi air. It’s a scorching 40 degrees and the humidity is high. But you’re not in New Delhi – you’re in an art installation, during the Starmus festival in Trondheim in June.
You continue to the next dome filled with city air, but the air has a completely different quality. You recognize the beautiful fragrances of fjord and forest, and perhaps you catch a whiff of summer meadow. This dome is filled with air from Trondheim, which is one of six cities featured in an experiential art exhibit called “pollution pods.”
Each of the six domes in the installation allows you to sniff the air from a world metropolis: London, Trondheim, Sao Paolo, Cairo, Beijing and New Delhi. The latter four rank dangerously high on the list of cities with the most air pollution. Millions of people in these metropolitan areas must live with highly polluted air every day.
Wonder what the air is really like in Beijing? This link will take you to a site where you can see the current air pollution level there.
Feelings stronger than scientific data
NTNU professor Christian A. Klöckner is head of a project called Climart. He studies the interplay between visual arts and consumer behaviour.
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“What are the psychological effects when people encounter climate art? That’s what we want to find out,” Klöckner says. Part of his research involves studying people’s consumer habits, how we experience climate change and what can make us change our habits.
“We see potential in art. Art is about emotions — and it speaks to us more directly than a scientific report. Art can trigger an emotional reaction, which doesn’t usually happen in environmental communication,” he says.
The researchers are also investigating which feelings make us most willing to change our habits — such as fear, happiness, anger or empathy.
“Some emotions are more likely to inspire us to do something,” says Klöckner, although he can’t yet say which. The Climart project is now in its final phase, and the data is being analysed. The research group will have more answers soon.
From feeling to change
“People go through four phases when they change behaviour. The first is to feel encouraged and motivated to do something,” Klöckner says.
The next steps are to explore and become aware of what you can do. Then you have to set a goal. The final phase is to try — and possibly succeed — in changing behaviour over time.
People respond differently to climate messages, depending which of these phases they’re in.
The project’s researchers have been collecting data since 2014. They have participated in major climate conferences around Europe, including the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris. ArtCOP21, which was organized simultaneously, included the climate art of many engaged artists.
The research group studied a total of 37 climate art works, and conducted numerous interviews. They also collected research data at the “Earth” exhibition in Brighton, UK in March of this year.
The smell you never forget…
For many of us, certain smells – often harkening all the way back to childhood – bring back memories and associations every time we catch a whiff of that scent.
“Smell and memory are closely connected,” Klöckner explains. Then he becomes more reticent. He’s not ready to reveal his hypotheses until the research results are all in. The researchers will also be gathering data during the Starmus festival. Research and art go hand in hand, as befits the spirit of the festival.
Climate artist Michael Pinsky
Climart put out an open call for an art commission, and received over 130 applications. Five artists were invited to give a more detailed presentation to the research group.
“We chose Michael Pinsky because he suggested several good ideas, and because he was very open to the dialogue we were looking for in the project. He’s also collaborated with researchers and psychologists before. We agreed on the idea of the pollution pods because it sparks people’s immediate interest. It’s also something totally new that no one has seen before,” Klöckner said.
Michael Pinsky is a British artist who has worked extensively with visualizing climate change and other current and important social topics.
“Pollution and climate are international issues! We buy goods from other countries that pollute locally, “says Pinsky.
• Climart is an interdisciplinary research project led by Christian Klöckner at NTNU’s Department of Psychology
• Launched in 2014
• Funded by the Research Council of Norway
• Supported by NTNU Sustainability
• Culminates in a display of the Pollution Pods installation in Trondheim during the Starmus festival, where more research data will be collected
• Read more on the Climart project on the project website.
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See more spectacular works of art on Pinsky’s website.
Pollution pods evoke the planets
The six pods on display at Starmus are geodesic domes. Wooden sticks are used to assemble triangles into a special pattern. These are connected to plastic and metal hubs to form the domes. The domes measure six meters in diameter and are linked by small corridors to form a large ring.
The walls inside the domes are clad with a special type of transparent plastic that will keep the air inside. At the same time, transparency creates a visual effect, both for those inside and outside.
The six linked domes evoke the planets, which fits well with the theme of the festival.
Toxic pollution cocktail
“The pollution cocktail in real urban air contains ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide, among other things,” says Klöckner.
“We don’t want the air in the domes to expose the public to danger, so we’ll remove the most dangerous substances and replace them with harmless ingredients and fragrances that resemble the real city air. The Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU) is contributing its expertise to create the right air mixtures for each dome, so that the smell and feel of breathing in the air is realistic,” he adds.
Klöckner says the project has benefitted from a lot of good helpers along the way. Several are actually volunteering to help because they think it’s an exciting project to be part of.
Read more about climate art, Michael Pinsky and the partners on the project’s website.
Experience the climate domes at Starmus
You can explore the pollution pods at the Starmus festival, which runs from 18 to 23 June in Trondheim. The installation will be open to everyone and is free.
“The installation will eventually be exhibited in other cities as well,” says Klöckner, who wants to investigate whether people change their behaviour after experiencing climate art.
The Starmus Science Festival
NTNU is hosting Starmus, the world's most ambitious science festival.
• The festival combines social engagement and science.
• The festival will feature 11 Nobel Prize winners, 10 astronauts, and a total of 46 science stars.
• Academic superstar and music lover Stephen Hawking will give presentations.
• Jeffrey Sachs, one of the world's most important economists, will talk on how to survive Trump, climate change and global crises.
• One of the most quoted contemporary sociologists, Anthony Giddens, will present on "The digital revolution and the Future of world society."
• Three astronauts will share experiences from their moon landings and their thoughts about future space travel.
• Film director Oliver Stone (Natural Born Killers and Platoon) will participate in a debate with CNN talk show host Larry King.
• Steve Vai, Nuno Bettencourt, Ane Brun, David Zambuka, Grace Potter, Devin Townsend, the Trondheim Soloists and Trondheim Symphony Orchestra are on the list of artists.