B.C. art group to build ‘breathing’ sculpture to highlight air quality

A B.C. social justice group is developing a large-scale moving art piece to shed light on the threats of air pollution around the world.

The “breathing” art piece will consist of moving origami pieces that grow and contract depending on the air quality of a particular country selected, allowing spectators to learn more about the health risks some parts of the world face in regard to air pollution. It is being built by Activism Through Technology and Art (ATTA) society, which is made up of over 20 people.

University of British Columbia (UBC) student Chloe Benko-Prieur is one of the leads for the project and says the inspiration for the sculpture began earlier in the pandemic.

“I think that air during that time was up something we were more aware of, but maybe have been not in this sense of air quality,” she told CityNews. “Here in B.C, we hear about it when there are forest fires, but otherwise, I think in the news, it’s not covered that often.”

“We want to hopefully bring the sense in people that it’s important to take care of air and make sure that everyone could breathe good air, in a better world,” she said.

A rendering of the "breathing" art sculpture meant to depict air qualities around the world shown on a beach.

A rendering of the “breathing” art sculpture meant to depict air qualities around the world shown on a beach. (Courtesy: ATTA Society)

UBC Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Dr. Naomi Zimmerman has been the key source of information behind the project. She leads the Integrated Research in Energy, Air, Climate & Health (iREACH) laboratory, looking at ways policy and technology impact climate outcomes.

“I’ve always thought it would be amazing to build some kind of art installation to actually visualize some of this data. But myself, and my sort of day-to-day job, doing research and teaching, I never really had the capacity, or funds, or time to make something like this happen,” Zimmerman said.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately seven million premature deaths are attributed to poor air quality annually, the majority of which are in low and middle-income countries. The organization says that nine out of 10 people worldwide breathe air that exceeds the WHO air pollution limits.

Raising money for the project

In order to build the sculpture, Benko-Prieur, Zimmerman and the rest of the team needed to fund it. A Kickstarter campaign had an initial goal of $3,500, but it has already brought in more than $7,000 through 95 donors.

“I feel just so grateful. And it’s really inspiring to see that people want to be part of this project and that they’re willing to support us financially,” said Benko-Prieur.

Zimmerman says the pandemic stalled the first steps of the project but it has gained momentum since restrictions have loosened.

“We had our first meeting talking about the ideas almost two years ago. It’s a bit of a blur,” she said. “And so now I think that there’s less restrictions and they’re able to actually get some prototypes built that’s really really enabled this Kickstarter to happen.”


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And Benko-Prieur says the prototypes have caught the attention of people in other countries.

“It’s something we want to bring across Canada and we already have someone I think who’s interested in Europe and who said we could have it in an art gallery or something. So hopefully, we’ll go around the world. It’s something that we’ll decide more next year during the summer,” she said.

The dynamic sculpture is now in its building phase and is expected to be completed in the summer of 2023 when it will be installed in Vancouver.

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