Something in the Air

landscape-itaIn the Air was a project by Nerea Calvillo and collaborators that was shown earlier this year at the Prado MediaLab and I just heard about it from @mediavisual. One part of this project is rather mundane to me. According to the team of architects and artists, “In the Air is a visualization project which aims to make visible the microscopic and invisible agents of Madrid’s air”. Another visualization, I thought to myself. So what?

But what really captivated me about this project is that the team then made a prototype and, in effect, made an atmosphere, or what they call a “diffuse façade”, in which tinted particulates and pollutants become parts of a building:


The cloud brings to mind several other experiments, most famously the Diller+Scofidio Blur building. In that case, though, the objective was to make a building that challenged the materiality of buildings. It still was…a building. In this case, I think, there’s the possibility to really push something else altogether, perhaps allowing for users to ‘make’ new atmospheres and/or environments (and make interesting distinctions between the two) based on various agendas.

For instance, the oft-cited David Gissen, in considering the reconstruction of historical air above Pittsburgh, thought the actual realization was impossible. But is it, now that we hear of this prototype?

Reconstruction – Smoke, 2006 by David Gissen

In the case of In the Air, the authors imagine a time when:

Assembly instructions will be posted on the web and each user will be able to make a unit for their balconies or windows. This will generate a distributed net of visualizations, representing the data collected throughout the city.

An individual can “tune” their unit to select the pollutant they are interested in tracking – this will allow for the construction of a collective map of personal environmental interests.

In the Air - future?

In the Air - future?

Personally, I’m more interested –not in the mapping possibilities of this air, which is an elusive reality to map at best, and actually more politically fraught than the team has realized– but in the further inventive possibilities, which of course can actually be more charged than mere visualization.

A step in a related direction is put forth by the work of Bompas & Parr, who’ve made cocktail air and cinematic air. These loosely related ideas suggest that these emerging techniques can be put to work in other creative ways. With In the Air’s instructions perhaps one could single out the air made by a polluter, and even re-situate it in a different location, a gallery perhaps. Or, colorize and let pollutants hover over a prohibited landscape–depleted Uranium over the closed Vieques “wilderness refuge” (a clever American government hoax)–only to be seen by tourists from afar. Maybe a very patriotic artist makes a bizarre monument to “air war”–to chemical warfare, that is–as would maybe be of interest to readers of Sloterdijk’s Terror from the Air. Or we might hear of Inigo Manglano Ovalle, using this technique for historical inquiries. The work of Sean Lally/Weathers also comes to mind in this context.

In short, what is most thought-provoking about the possible direction of this project, at least to me, has to do with the new natures that could be created or otherwise objectified and displayed. Or the spaces of natures that are alien to humans and that remain to be seen.  It’s involuntarily related to that incident of “aerosolized pig brains”, a seemingly un-natural material that’s  nonetheless manufactured from nature.  Maybe in a swirl of the sublime at its most terrifying, one could walk into a cloud of pigbrains in a biohazard suit–a dystopic take on D+S’s Blur building–or create a house, a la R&Sie(n), where aerosolized pig brains become building envelope?


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