China is a very interesting country for the Smogware project, because of the urgent issue’s around air quality and, moreover, centuries of knowledge of the medium, porcelain. It seems to be the country where all the ingredients come together in the superlative.
Could Smogware contribute in China to the improvement of air quality? If and how is it needed to contribute to an awareness (visualizing) the air quality? This requires research. What is required for this? What cultural translation is needed, rather then only translating air quality data to the tableware. What source of data can be used to begin with? Which tableware items fit best, a tea set?
Of course, the project must be prevented from having a negative impact on the air quality in the world due to high emissions from travel and transport, so ideally a local studio should be established. Smogware Studio China is now being established, where tableware is produced for local use. The first Smogware Tea-set is under development. No, not for sale in Europe. 😉
Get the measure of
The Smogware project is not about comparing each other’s situation. It is about inspiring to look in a different way at material, at your own living environment, at your daily choices.
What the initiators Annemarie and Iris can do is measure their own choices, such as their choice to fly to China … with a shocking result: a flight from Amsterdam to Beijing and back costs 1740 grams of particulate matter. Per person.
“a return Amsterdam-Beijing costs 1740 gram air pollution”
The city associated with smog and poor air quality, is Beijing. The smog alarm in 2015 apparently made a big impression. Since then, many measures have been taken that have made the air 10 to 20% cleaner every year, at least in the city of Beijing. For example, motorised transport in most of the city is electric, and polluting factories are located a little further away.
In the spring the city suffers from “yellow wind”, sand storms from the nearby Gobi desert. Once (many) trees were planted north of the city to stop these sand storms, as a result, the smog now remains longer above the city, as the trees prevent the wind to blow the smog away. Despite the transition to electric traffic, there are still many sources of particulate matter. For economic reasons, the cheapest energy is mainly chosen, the burning of coal. Complex factors and a huge scale, and at the same time big steps towards improvement. The air in Beijing is now as clean on many days as in Amsterdam, even cleaner, say employees at the Dutch Embassy in Beijing. They like to keep an eye on this with the “airvisual” app.
As a contribution to the Beijing Design Week 2019, the Dutch Embassy organised a series of meetings between Chinese and Dutch designers. The format of the workshop, was set around publicly unpacking of ‘the luggage’ of the Dutch participants and their Chinese partners. It created an atmosphere of telling stories by means of object, and inviting the audience to participate in the conversation. “Storytelling as a design tool” is a dimension with a different context in Dutch design practice. Growing up in the functional world of (true) data, we can learn a lot from the richness of poetic and visual stories.
“Ah! It’s art.”
Collecting air pollution in Beijing
Wan Ting explained that collecting dust on the street in the busy and well-known Donghzemen Square was accepted by passers-by for calling it an activity for an art project. The relief, “Ah, … it’s art! Could I join?”
First test with Beijing air pollution glaze, left in spring, right in autumn. The glaze on the left sample is more transparent due to the larger amount of sand in the air, blown to Beijing from the Gobi desert in the “yellow wind”.
Changsha, with 7 million inhabitants, is one of the smaller Chinese cities, capital of the southern province of Hunan, unknown to many. The company Broad Clean Air, which among other things produces and manages air treatment installations for buildings, has its headquarters here. Contact has been made with this company because of its core business, the extraction of polluted air, but also because the headquarters houses a progressive community art program Plan8t Air, aimed at a healthy world of tomorrow. The aim of the visit is therefore to explore the possibilities of setting up Smogware Studio China together, with Broad Clean Air as a knowledge partner and ‘particulate matter supplier’, and with Plan8t as a partner in the development of the program and workshops.
A first workshop has been organised to test whether participants would actually be willing to go out together and roll up their sleeves … despite the universal yellow gloves perhaps an unattractive and too outspoken idea? As in Europe, the activity is received enthusiastically. As the containers are filled with dust, conversations start. Collectively harvesting works, also in China.
More about the workshop (in Chinese) here, or (in Dutch) here.
The dust was processed into glaze which was then used by the participants to glaze their own cup. Before this, the ceramist associated with the makers community of Plan8t had been turning porcelain cups. Once glazed and fired, the participants picked up their own cups later.
An initial test with the dust from Broad’s filters as a glaze has been done. It delivers a new palette of colours. Glaze experts see resemblance to traditional wood ash glaze. Is there a connection with the large amount of coal-fired power stations in and around Changsha? Or could it be dust particles from the forest fires that were raging in Indonesia at the time, thousands of miles away?
As soon as the world can open up after the outbreak of Covid-19, loose ends will be picked up again and we will continue to work on the plan: the development of a ceremonial tea set, Smogware Teaset. To be continued!