Urban air quality is extremely poor. Unnoticed every day, we inhale soot, nitrogen oxides and poisonous particulate matter, of which we ourselves are the producers. Together with Dutch design-duo of Smogware.org, Annemarie Piscaer and Iris de Kievith, I co-curated On Air, an exhibition responding to the urgent problem of air pollution and hosted by Ceramic Art London 2022. Conceived as a satellite exhibition to the Craft Potter Association’s annual fair, the show was mounted in the public foyer of Central Saint Martins, featuring five international and British artists. Using smog dust, clay, glaze, ceramics and clay stop-frame animation these diverse practices make visible and tangible the invisible poison of air pollution in order to provoke discussion and debate – to be a call to action
The featured artists are Smogware’s provocative teacups coloured with smog-stained glazes, Kim Abeles challenging work allowing ambient particulate dust to fall on commemorative plates revealing portraits of world leaders and their pledges on air quality. The show also includes work from glaze specialist Linda Bloomfield who has been representing lichen in glazes, as early-indicators of air pollution, Jasmine Pradissitto who sculpts in Noxtek, a ceramic geopolymer capable of absorbing nitrogen dioxide and my own work, combining ceramics with clay animation to bring the topic of gasping for breath to life. On Air also features the Air Lab – a place for informal discussion where visitors can hear about how the work has been made, how the works and glazes can be ‘read’, with more information to inspire makers to get involved with an expanding international network of artists exploring the problem of air pollution.
Images by Henry Bloomfield, David Pearl and Jo Pearl
Resonating Smog Collection
The making of the London editions of Smogware’s tea cups and Kim Abeles’ Lungs in Smog and World Leaders in Smog both involved gathering London smog particulate matter to show the immediacy and local relevancy of the problem. The aim was to tell powerful stories about the extent and impact of air pollution, as well as ceramic practice and clean air activism. Smogware London team collected smog dust from railings in Upper Thames Street, and mixed this particulate matter into the glazes of their ceramic tea cups in varying amounts in order to express the amount of smog city residents ingest over a lifetime. Abeles agreed to make two new pieces for the show: Lungs in Smog and a new addition to World Leaders in Smog featuring Mayor Sadiq Khan instead of the UK Prime Minister, reflecting how mayors are showing more leadership in delivering clean air than their national counterparts. The Sadiq Khan plate was placed alongside those of Angela Merkel created in Berlin, Emmanuel Macron created in Paris, XiXinping and Jacob Zuma created in Abeles’ hometown of Los Angeles. Working with Abeles, as curators we approached local London activists and makers to host her Smog Collectors. Stencils on Commemorative plates and panes of glass were placed in their gardens or roof tops of their homes for about 25 days in March 2022. There, Abeles’ stencils captured the ambient smog dust to reveal ghostly images. Collaborating hosts included the campaigner Rosamund Kissi Debrah – mother of Ella Roberta who suffered a fatal asthma attack in 2013 and had air pollution recorded on her death certificate, the first time in the world this has happened. Abeles’ work was also ‘exposed’ at the home of a clean air activist and mosaic artist in Catford, Greenpeace’s offices in busy Islington, Smogware London’s intern who lives close to the London Assembly as well as down wind of the congested North Circular Road and the Edmonton waste incinerator at the home of the founder of the Stop the Edmonton Incinerator Campaign. As another protestor against the expansion of the Edmonton incinerator, on Council tax strike and risking jail, I also exposed one of Kim’s Lungs in Smog on my roof in Archway, to highlight this campaign within the exhibition. The London Smog Gathering display included a map showing were the smog dust was collected around the capital, and why we had chosen these locations.