We are thrilled to announce that Detroit-based visual artist Susan Goethel Campbell will kick off a year-long public art project THIS weekend at the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival called Portraits of Air: Pittsburgh. Her collaborative venture is at the intersection of art, science and environmental sustainability, inviting people to think about air–where it moves and what is in it–in new and interesting ways.
It works like this: Campbell will be at our Breathe Project table at the arts festival on June 8 and 9, where she will distribute 100 framed, spun-glass air filters to interested participants.
People who take an 8X10 filter will be asked to place them in locations where they think the air is dirty at their home, workplace or in their community. In past projects, people have selected unusual and playful sites for their filters–everywhere from under the bed to near a construction site to next to the smoker at a barbecue. The frames have magnets on the back so they can be attached to a metal surface.
Participants will then e-mail Campbell a photo of the filter in its chosen location(s). She will post the photos and other project updates on her website, presshereprojects.wordpress.com, over the course of the year.
During that time, the filters will collect particulate matter in the air, and next March, participants will mail their dirty filters back to Campbell, who will scan them for documentation. The results of the project will be exhibited next year at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s 709 Gallery, and all participants will receive a full-color poster featuring the filters and sites where they were placed throughout the Pittsburgh region.
“The goal of this project is not to tell people about the hazards of air pollution, but to let people think about the issues on their own,” Campbell says. “Concern for the environment has always been prevalent in my work. More recently, I decided to take the information I was presenting and abstract it more so the message wasn’t so heavy-handed.”
Campbell’s interest in air quality issues was heightened when she moved to Detroit in the 1980s and was taken aback by the air pollution from the car manufacturers and other industries. “I would look on the horizon, and it would have a yellowish haze,” she recalls. “…I could use the smell of the air as an indicator as to which way the wind was blowing.”
In 2009, she began researching air quality in Detroit, shadowing a State of Michigan air-monitoring technician for two months going to data collection sites in Southwest Detroit. She was stunned by the amount of particulates measured at a collection site near a steel smelter over a 24-hour period.
That year, Campbell launched a project similar to the one she is undertaking in Pittsburgh called Dirty Pictures: Portraits of Air. Her intention was to create an ongoing, unscientific investigation on the movement and quality of air around the world. For the project, she disbursed filters to 24 people in seven countries, including 14 locations within the United States. The resulting exhibition was shown in Maribor, Slovenia, and the Flux Factory in Queens, New York. Text documenting the locations of the filters also led to the creation of a poem. A subsequent project focused on air quality in the five boroughs in New York City.
Air quality in the Pittsburgh area has certainly improved in recent decades, but pollution levels in our region are still high enough to harm our health. We are excited about this new conceptual way to think about this problem and look forward to seeing all of the creative places that people find to place their air filters as their photos come in throughout the year.
Be sure to stop by our table at the Three Rivers Arts Festival on Saturday, June 8 to talk to Campbell and pick up your filter and instructions–along with great Breathe Project swag. She will also be attending the festival on Sunday to give away filters while supplies last.
And stay tuned to the Breathe Project blog and Campbell’s site for regular updates on the Portraits of Air: Pittsburgh project or to find out how to get involved!