See your air! Discover what you’re breathing! Particle Falls appears as a large cascading blue waterfall on the side of a building. Some call this video projection a mural, but one only visible at night. Media artist Andrea Polli employs a scientific device called a nephelometer to make otherwise invisible pollutants in the air now visible. In real time, these appear as bursts of bright colors on the blue falls, triggered, for example, when a jetliner flies overhead, a diesel truck bolts up the street, a motor scooter noisily passes near or a smoker puffs away on his cigarette as he stands close to the nephelometer. Greater amounts of pollution generate more of the bright bursts of color.
What’s the big deal? Through a complex process the nephelometer records the particulate matter (PM) of 2.5 microns in diameter or less. (This information is converted into digital data, and from there to a program which represents the pollutants on screen as described above.) To grasp PM 2.5 microns, compare it to a human hair which is 50 to 70 microns in diameter. We breathe in particulate matter of 10 microns in diameter, e.g. dust, pollen or mold. So PM 2.5 or less is made of fossil fuel discharges, other organic chemicals, soil, dust, metals, acids like sulfates or nitrates, to name some. With Particle Falls we can actually see how readily these fossil fuel pollutants can enter our bodies and cause serious health problems. As Polli commented, she wanted her viewers to think about sources of harm in our environments, but also to acknowledge our roles in our own health and our contributions to pollution and, in particular, to the green house gas pollution associated with climate change as it affects the planet and all other species who inhabit it.
Polli sums up Particle Falls so well: “A large-scale public art installation that acts as a monitor, an alarm and a thing of beauty all at the same time by using particulate air pollution as a basis for a cascading waterfall/lightshow flowing down the side of a building.”
Will seeing create action? Will Particle Falls become a catalyst for smokers to stop, for more people to take public transportation? We must take advantage of the way Polli brings art and science together to present such an urgent message. Polli and her team will have the opportunity to field such questions and comments in workshops or other events encouraging lively dialogue with interested community members and others who work, especially locally, in fields of public health, environmental services, and various sciences monitoring and researching air quality.
Curator Regina Cornwell conceived and is organizing inClimate under the auspices of Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc.