Air Quality+ Artworks: Anatomy of Human Breath Personalising air pollution by the air that you breathe
The Anatomy of Human Breath is my investigation of how to depict/manifest air data to make it personal and engaging and how to use an exhaled breath so that it could become an agent between us and the air around.
I take measurements in real time from the exhaled breath via three sensors: carbon dioxide, hydrogen and most importantly exhaled nitric oxide. Then I use those values as an agent creating and altering visualisations. That way everybody who interact with the installation create individual picture of their breath.
To help participants find a connection between their breath and the air around, I produced a screen based dynamic visualisation of the real time air quality data based on readings from all active sensors scattered around Sheffield presented as a complement to the exhaled breath data rendition.
The air is something seemingly invisible, but mingling with our lungs, skin, food, movements and bodily tissues, its quality and its composition affecting us. Our lungs are very good in sensing if something in the air which we inhale is not right for us. Our respiratory system filters that data – detects what is useful, what needs to be rejected and then unnecessary stuff is exhaled, all happening unconsciously. The breathing is an interface between what is needed to keep us alive – all the internal chemical and physical processes happening to make us as functional organisms – and the air and thus our environment.
As an artist however I do not want to preach and design warnings for people to be careful with their pollution creating activities. What I am interested in conveying to the audience is that concept of connection between ourselves and our environment made integral by the air. I hope that by doing so I can for at least a moment bring our attention to breathing and thus extended it further to the air (and to all what air affects), hoping that some of us – me included – will remember about it for a bit longer.
I look at the real time environmental data as a means of capturing and understanding the air. I consider the data as signals of some state/condition – a language through which we can understand that condition and make it more present for us. I focused on a visualisation of those signals, I wanted to make sure that it was intriguing, engaging and clear enough, so that audience would be prompt to ask questions.
During the Air Quality+ launch event, the audience was very much informed about the subject of the exhibition. People came there for a reason and they were all interested in subjects of open data, air quality and both. The visualisations of exhaled breath – that very intimate invisible particles from inside the body which were rendered and became visible – proved to be very popular. Those who interacted with Anatomy of Human Breath asked a lot of questions and were more likely to also engage with the visualisation of the air quality. They talked about what they did and where they went in the past few hours or days, in an attempt to localise a place where they could have been exposed to various pollutants.
As an artist I do not want to take a position of social scientist who would analyze the transformation (or not) in people’s attitudes after being introduced to this subject via an artwork. However it is not easy to escape that role after interacting with the recipients of my artwork and listening to their comments. I have noticed that those comments/feedback mainly came in a form of questions – not about the artwork itself, but about the subject of it – that is about the air quality in Sheffield, in general, human health and human breath. I would like to believe that those questions meant that whatever I did had a positive effect.
I feel I have scratched only a surface of how I can use this data to convey my message. But the opportunities to test concepts are very important, and therefore thanks to the Air Quality+ commission, The Anatomy of Human Breath and my quest to find a way to make real time environmental signals and data personal, intimate and intense is now one step further to its goal.