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An immersive art installation lets you see, smell and feel the toxic fog of polluted cities

qz.com • April 22, 2019

Burnt rubber perfumes London’s air. São Paulo smells like vinegar. Beijing’s winter scent is sulfur and coal.

British artist Michael Pinsky installed a different kind of horror house in the bowels of the Vancouver Convention Center during the TED conference last week. The so-called “Pollution Pods” are a circuit of five geodesic domes designed to give visitors the chilling experience of breathing in the air of some of the world’s most polluted cities. “I came up with this to see whether art can change people’s perceptions about climate change,” explained Pinsky.

He reassured visitors that his art installation is a simulation, and the air inside is safe to breathe. “When you have carbon dioxide and nitric dioxide in a confined place, you tend to kill people. That doesn’t happen here,” Pinsky says. “Out there, yes, but not here.”

Using fog machines, humidifiers and compressors, and room scents—all enclosed in plastic domes—Pinsky recreates the stifling atmospheric conditions of London, New Delhi, Beijing, and São Paulo, contrasted with the comparatively clean-smelling air on the island of Tautra in Norway.

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