Smog Is Democratic

2009
Carl DiSalvo and Jonathan Lukens

Smog Is Democratic at CDC

To many, particulate matter might seem uninspiring. But particulate matter is evidence of life. As we inhabit and wear away at the city we produce dust and debris. As plants attempt to reproduce, they produce pollen. All of this together, and much more, becomes the material residue of life that is particulate matter. As a subject, particulate matter brings together multiple themes in contemporary society: our concern with pollution, the relationship between urban living and hygiene; the tension between scientific representation and artistic expression of information; and the desire to produce techniques of measurement against the threat of the unseen.

“Smog is Democratic” was a media installation by Carl DiSalvo and Jon Lukens that explored particulate matter through the medium of data and photographic visualization. It was not scientific—the goal is not to establish or prove facts. Rather, it was interpretive and expressive, with the goal of considering how the sources and measurements of particulate matter might be aesthetically considered and rendered in order to generate reflection, discussion, and perhaps even debate. The phrase “Smog is Democratic” we taken from the sociologist Ulrich Beck. While some have argued that such a claim is not accurate, we found the phrase compelling and appropriate, for it communicates that the air around us is both shared and contested.

The data visualizations were based on air quality, smog, and particulate matter data from 2008, maintained by the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. This database records both predicted and observed smog alerts as well as daily ratings of the air quality index. In each data visualization, the data were used differently. For example, in Distribution Over Time 1 the ratings were mapped by date onto a satellite image of the city, while in Distribution In Time 1 they were used to generate the disruptions of the images in the video loop. The photographs presented another form of visualization, capturing and using images as information about our environment.

Smog is Democratic was included as part of the exhibit Consequential Matters
June 15 – September 11, 2009 Global Health Odyssey Museum, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The exhibition Consequential Matters was an investigation by four Atlanta-based artists of the consequences of urbanization, technology, consumption, indulgence, and globalization.

Peter Essick: High-Tech TrashFor a January 2008 article National Geographic article about the disposal of scrap electronics, Atlanta-based photojournalist Peter Essick traveled to Africa, Asia, Europe, and the United States. The global trade in “e-waste”—computers, cell-phones, and hard drives, to name a few items—has developed exponentially over the past 20 years with resulting environmental and social concerns. This documentary essay bears witness to workers in developing countries who expose themselves to health risks as they pull apart monitors or circuit boards to extract copper, gold, silver or lead. Essick also chronicles more environmentally responsible recycling programs in Europe, and questions some of our efforts here in the United States.

Mark Wentzel: XLounge x 3XLounge x 3 is a series of cleverly-adapted Eames Lounge Chairs and Ottomans responding to the apparent consequences of the over-consumption of goods and materials of recent years. Designed in 1956 by the legendary American designers Charles and Ray Eames with mass production in mind, this iconic furniture has come to typify a particular standard for stylish and enduring design products. Artist Mark Wentzel invokes a more universal application in XLounge, alluding to topics of global obesity and consumption, and the potential cooperation among artists, designers, scientists and manufacturers to address such issues.

Carl DiSalvo and Jonathan Lukens: Smog is DemocraticSmog is Democratic explores particulate matter through the medium of visualization. As we inhabit and wear away at the city, we produce dust and debris. As plants attempt to reproduce, they release pollen. These and other processes create particulate matter, a residue of life. An investigation of particulate matter touches multiple concerns: pollution, the relationship between urban living and hygiene, the tension between scientific and artistic representations of information, and the desire to produce measurement techniques that gauge the threat of the unseen. This installation is interpretive and expressive, with the goal of considering how the sources and measurements of particulate matter might be rendered in order to generate reflection, discussion, and debate.