This is a guest blog post by Simon Ross, IDST co-founder.
Air quality and how to analyse and understand it, are at the heart of this innovative and engaging workshop that came to Macclesfield on a warm Saturday afternoon in June.
A group of 10 artist explorers gathered at the Art Space on Heapy Street at 1 pm and were met by the project leader Ling Tan and her colleagues Nicholas and Austin. After introductions were made Ling introduced the key concepts of the program . We would be making a walking tour of 9 locations in surrounding area. Our instructions were to record our impressions of the air quality in each location using a 2 or 3 key words.
Ling explained that she was interested in the language surrounding air quality analysis and the way in which there is , as yet no consensus, on how to adequately describe the basic element that surrounds us.
We spent a few minutes at each location recording our sensory impressions and returned to the art space to discuss our findings. What became clear was that good air quality was often described in simple clear terms such as “clean, fresh ,good” – it was only when experiencing bad air quality that the language started to break down words like “choaking “ “cementy “ “throaty” started to emerge it there was a loss of specifity and a more reaching and uncertain language became used.
We also discussed the implications of air quality and the way it impacts on our lives. We remarked on the traffic congested streets , the fact that the school runs are particularly polluted times of day and the idea that no-one is really sure what the local air quality is like with statistics and information being hard to obtain.
It was clear that all participants had an opinion and were looking to understand more.
The second half of the workshop introduced technology.
We were presented with a see through muji raincoat, inlaid with movement sensors, and a mobile phone. Ling explained that we would be repeating our trip around town but this time we would be indicating our air impressions using a series of arm movements. These movements would be recorded by the motion sensors and the results would be uploaded to the pollution explorers website. We were also instructed to take one photograph at each site that summed up the air quality experience.
It was a pleasantly surreal experience to walk around the streets on a scorching hot cloudless day, wearing raincoats and gesturing in unison on street corners, drawing all manner of curious looks and comments.
On our return to the art space our movements and images were swiftly uploaded to the pollution explorers website and soon we had a map of the locale plotted out with an aggregate of our gestures and a selection of the photographs we took ,that we viewed on a laptop projector and formed the basis of a group discussion.
The afternoon ended with an option to carry on the project by making a commitment to carry out another seven days of pollution exploration. To find out how I chose to prolong the project look out for further blog updates coming soon.