From Norwegian University of Science and Technology

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, and part of a research project, during the Starmus Science Festival in Trondheim in June.

Each of the six domes in the upcoming “Pollution Pods” experiential art installation in Trondheim, Norway 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.

Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) professor Christian A. Klöckner is head of a project called Climart, which has sponsored the installation and is studying how people react to the artwork. His own speciality is the interplay between visual arts and consumer behaviour.

“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 research group will have more answers soon.

“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 has already 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.

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 Science Festival in Trondheim on the pollution pods. Research and art go hand in hand, as befits the spirit of the festival.

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.

The six pods that will be on display at the Starmus Science Festival 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.

“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.

The pollution pods will be first exhibited 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.