Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

5 Artists Take on China's Appalling Air Quality

Climate
Greenpeace / Chu Chu

By Anna McGurk

With avenues of protest and online discussion strictly controlled, artists in China are finding increasingly creative ways to voice their frustration at their cities' appalling air pollution.

It's easy to see why: at the end of 2016, an area of China larger than Spain and Portugal put together was trapped under a cloud of smog that didn't leave for five days, causing a spike in respiratory illnesses, grounding flights and causing a panicked exodus from the city (for those who could afford it).

2017 then began inauspiciously with the longest air pollution episode seen this century.

Years of winters spent under a seemingly endless cloud of smog has spawned some seriously creative protest art. Here are five artists that found unique ways to speak up against air pollution.

1. Nut Brother: Smog Bricks

In December 2015, when Beijing's air quality was so bad that it triggered the very first red alert, one artist used a very interesting weapon of choice: an industrial-sized vacuum cleaner.

For 100 days, Nut Brother wandered the streets of Beijing sucking in the capital's dense, soupy air. When he'd finished, he mixed the pollution he had hoovered up with clay and compressed it into a dense block, roughly the size and shape of a building brick. Nut Brother and his smog bricks quickly went viral as his quirky art performance showed the world a new and powerful symbol of China's smog battle.

His project, while playful in tone—some reports stated that he planned to "reintroduce" the smog brick into a building site, like returning an animal to the wild—Nut Brother had a poignant message to impart: "The day we exhaust all of the Earth's resources, we will ourselves turn into dust."

2. The Invisible Man: Smog Vest

Artist Liu Bolin is best known for his incredible ability to camouflage himself into almost any background. But during the Beijing's third red alert in December 2016, he went down a decidedly more conspicuous route.

Masked and wearing a high-vis jacket on which were strapped 24 cell phones, Liu live-streamed the smoggy cityscape as he walked the streets. The artist and sculptor, who described China's air quality as "a disaster" has gained international attention for his Hiding in the City series and has been photographed for fashion campaigns by Annie Liebowitz.

3. Wen Fang: Maskbook

Sick of feeling helpless in the face of China's toxic air pollution and worried for her child's health, Beijing artist Wen Fang fought back in the only way she could: through art.

For a global climate art project, she took part in Maskbook a series of images that takes the pollution mask—a mundane symbol of the very real fears that Chinese urban residents face—and turns it into an absurd work of art.

The name comes from a common Chinese joke about Facebook: "In China, since we all wear masks to protect us against the pollution, we say that Facebook for us should be renamed Maskbook."

Project participants come from all over the world and included more than1,500 participants, each of which designed their own unique masks.

"In my opinion, individual participation is important. The special thing about Maskbook is that it all comes from common people, from all different colours and nations," said Wen Fang.

4. Zhang Lingling: Smog Perfume

We all know what air pollution looks like, but how can we truly experience it if we're not living with it? Scent can be exceptionally evocative as Zhang Lingling learnt when she spoke to people of their experience living in smog and heard their descriptions of the smell of pollution.

With that in mind, she collaborated with a friend to make the first ever "smog perfume," a scent that has been described by a test audience as smelling of eggs, rotten fish and burning alcohol.

By making the perfume and testing it on the unsuspecting public of Shanghai, Zhang wanted to remind people that air pollution is a continuous problem, even when you can't see it.

Kong Ning: Marry the Blue Sky

When airpocalypse hits, Beijing artist Kong Ning can be found at the city's most popular landmarks and out on the streets, in striking dresses of her own creation.

Chinafotopress

In December 2015, she stepped out in a wedding dress adorned with hundreds of air pollution masks and walked the streets appealing to Beijingers to take public transport rather than contribute to the choking smog by driving. The year before, she was photographed outside the Beijing Exhibition center in another, wedding dress complete with a 10-meter-long train in a piece entitled "Marry the Sky."

Her most striking outfit was created in response to an orange alert called by the government when she appeared at Beijing's historic Drum tower in a dress covered in bright orange cones.

Kong Ning's approach stems from the idea that "humans are married to nature. We need to show that we love the environment."

Anna McGurk is an editor for Greenpeace East Asia.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A pangolin at a rescue center in Cambodia. Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay

By Malavika Vyawahare

China has banned the trade and consumption of wild animals in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak that has claimed more than 2,700 lives and infected more than 81,000 people, most of them in China, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Read More
A man carries plastic shopping bags in Times Square on May 5, 2018 in New York City. Kena Betancur / VIEWpress / Corbis / Getty Images

Nearly one year after New York became the second state in the nation to pass a ban on grocery store plastic bags — the law is going into effect on Sunday.

Read More
Sponsored
White gold man-made diamond solitaire engagement ring. Clean Origin

While keeping track of the new trends in the diamond industry can be hard, it is still an essential task of any savvy consumer or industry observer. Whether you are looking to catch a deal on your next diamond purchase or researching the pros and cons of an investment within the diamond industry, keeping up with the trends is imperative.

Read More
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) (C) chants with housing and environmental advocates before a news conference to introduce legislation to transform public housing as part of her Green New Deal outside the U.S. Capitol Nov. 14, 2019 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) took to the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday to chide Republicans for not reading the Green New Deal, which she introduced over one year ago, as The Hill reported. She then read the entire 14-page document into the congressional record.

Read More
Anti Ivan Duque's demonstrator is seen holding a placard with the photos of social leader Alirio Sánchez Sánchez and the indigenous Hector Janer Latín, both killed in Cauca, Colombia during a protest against Ivan Duque visit in London which included a meeting about fracking, environmental issues, the peace process implementation, and questioning the risk that social leaders in Colombia face. Andres Pantoja / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

Colombia was the most dangerous nation in 2019 to be an environmental activist and experts suspect that conditions will only get worse.

Read More