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Michael Pinsky’s Pollution Pods at the UN stirred dialogue on climate change

Visual artist Michael Pinsky’s immersive Pollution Pods that imitate the air of five global cities, were recently hosted by WHO during the UN Climate Action Summit in New York.

by Zohra Khan Sep 26, 2019

World Health Organisation (WHO) recently installed artist Michael Pinsky’s Pollution Pods during the UN Climate Action Summit in New York, to raise awareness about the impact of climate change and increasing air pollution, which is killing nearly seven million lives every year. Hosted in the lawns of the UN Headquarters, the experiential installation welcomed climate activists and world leaders to engage in dialogues and propose solutions to mitigate climate change for a livable future.

WHO installed artist Michael Pinsky’s Pollution Pods at the UN Headquarters in New York during the recent UN Climate Action Summit | Pollution Pods | Michael Pinsky | STIRworld
WHO installed artist Michael Pinsky’s Pollution Pods at the UN Headquarters, New York, during the UN Climate Action Summit Image Credit: David Buckland / Cape Farewell

Pinsky’s installation was the perfect fit to highlight the urgency of the matter. The work featured five inter-connected geodesic domes, mimicking the air quality of five international cities - Tautra (Norway), Beijing (China), London (England), São Paolo (Brazil) and New Delhi (India).

With only a minute or two inside the pods, the visitors experienced uneasiness and shortness of breath as each pod contained carefully mixed recipes emulating the relative presence of ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide – the toxic ingredients that are polluting our cities and poisoning our health.

  • Inside the Pollution Pods visitors felt uneasy and were short of breath as each pod imitated the air quality of five international cities | Pollution Pods | Michael Pinsky | STIRworld
    Inside the Pollution Pods visitors felt uneasy and were short of breath as each pod imitated the air quality of five international cities Image Credit: Michael Pinsky
  • Inside the Pollution Pod visitors feel unease and shortness of breath as each pod imitate the air quality of five global cities | Pollution Pods | Michael Pinsky | STIRworld
    Inside the Pollution Pod visitors feel unease and shortness of breath as each pod imitate the air quality of five global cities Image Credit: Michael Pinsky

The multi-domed structures were linked via tunnels. The shells made of thin timber rods with plastic sheets covered the overall surface. Visitors passed through the tunnels to get inside each pod, where the temperature alternated between dry and cold to hot and humid. Safe perfume blends and fog machines allowed them to sense the changing air quality of moderate to highly polluted world cities.

06 min watch The making of the Pollution Pods| Pollution Pods | Michael Pinsky | STIRworld
The making of the Pollution Pods Video Credit: Michael Pinsky

From the cool, misty environment with a tar-like whiff of Tautra’s Pod, the passage opened into the misty grey simulation of the London Pod where a pungent smell of diesel permeated the shell. Treading ahead, one landed into the smoky hot potbelly of New Delhi, the city where burning of plastic and crops, as well as large particulate matter released off unsealed roads, has made the situation worse. Further, it was Beijing with its nippy smog due to extensive coal and wood heating, and São Paulo with its vinegary, fruit like smell connected with ethanol, the popular transport fuel in the city.

  • Pollution Pods at the UN Headquarters, New York | Pollution Pods | Michael Pinsky | STIRworld
    Pollution Pods at the UN Headquarters, New York (September 2019) Image Credit: Ben Hartschuh
  • Pollution Pods at the Somerset House, London for Earth Day (April 2018) | Pollution Pods | Michael Pinsky | STIRworld
    Pollution Pods at the Somerset House, London for Earth Day (April 2018) Image Credit: Michael Pinsky
  • Pollution Pods for the Temporary commission Climart in Trondheim, Norway (2017) | Pollution Pods | Michael Pinsky | STIRworld
    Pollution Pods for the Temporary commission Climart in Trondheim, Norway (2017) Image Credit: Michael Pinsky

“In the Pollution Pods, I have tried to distill the whole bodily sense of being in each place. For instance, being in São Paulo seems like a sanctuary compared to New Delhi, until your eyes start to water from the sensation of ethanol, whilst Tautra is unlike any air you will have ever breathed before, it is so pure,” said artist Pinsky.

Artist Michael Pinsky, climate activist Greta Thunberg and Dr Maria Neira from WHO inside the Pollution Pods at the UN Climate Action Summit | Pollution Pods | Michael Pinsky | STIRworld
Artist Michael Pinsky, climate activist Greta Thunberg, and Dr Maria Neira from WHO inside the Pollution Pods at the UN Climate Action Summit Image Credit: Ben Hartschuh

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who came down for the summit from Europe on a zero-emission yacht, also visited the installation ahead of her moving speech at the UN.

While visitors to the Pollution Pods experience the sensation of air pollution for a few minutes, but breathing poisonous air is an every day reality for billions of people. Overseen by art non-profit Cape farewell, the installation, since its launch in 2017, has travelled to various cities across the globe to urge action on climate change. The earlier iterations were installed at the London’s Somerset House for Earth Day (April 2018); Place des Nations, Geneva for the first WHO Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health (October 2018), and TED’s annual flagship conference in Vancouver (April 2019).

Artist Michael Pinsky with his installation Pollution Pods in the background | Michael Pinsky | STIRworld
Artist Michael Pinsky with his installation Pollution Pods in the background Image Credit: Michael Pinsky

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About Author

Zohra Khan

Zohra Khan

A formal education in architecture combined with an avid interest in architecture journalism and design criticism led Khan to professionally venture into writing and research. She has worked in design communication for more than two years, generating content for mondo*arc india journal. When not writing, she kicks back by dabbling on social media for STIR.

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