As COP21, the annual Conference of Parties that gathers world leaders to discuss climate change, hopes to drive the climate change discussion forward, a performance artist in Beijing is doing his part to bring awareness to the notoriously polluted air of the Chinese urban center. This past July, “Nut Brother” a 34-year-old artist announced his plans to vacuum the dust from Beijing’s air. And that’s precisely what he did for the next 100 days with the use of his industrial-strength vacuum. He then proceeded to mix the dust with clay and make a brick out of, quite literally, thin air.
As he told Quartz, the next step “is to give the brick to a construction site, and make it part of a new building in Beijing. He would like to let the brick disappear into the concrete jungle, he said, ‘just like putting a drop of water in the ocean.’”
This is not the first time Chinese pollution has inspired artists. Earlier this year, Xiao Zhu, a Chinese company that makes air filters for homes and cars, turned the pollution rising from factory smokestacks into their own canvas, projecting children’s faces onto the rising smoke. The stunt hoped to raise awareness of the deadly effect of air pollution on children, using the tagline “Clean the air. Let the future breathe again.” And last year, following the appearance of 16,000 dead pigs floating down a river in Shanghai, Chinese contemporary artist, Cai Guo-Qiang created a solo show called “The Ninth Wave” at Shanghai's contemporary art museum, the Power Station of Art, which featured a life-sized boat filled with wool and styrofoam-crafted animals that appear sickly and dying.
If these art projects have something in common, it's the way they understand that while government regulations and international conferences are necessary, what we need is a broader cultural shift that’ll help us change our outlook on air pollution and climate change.
Speaking at COP21, President Barack Obama stated that the main goal of the next two weeks was “not simply an agreement to roll back the pollution we put into the skies, but an agreement that helps us lift people from poverty without condemning the next generation to a planet that is beyond its capacity to repair.”
Manuel is a NYC-based writer interested in all things media and pop culture. He's a regular contributor to The Film Experience and Remezcla. His work has been featured in Mic News, Film Comment, and Model View Culture. He also has a PhD but hates bragging about it. www.mbetancourt.com