When Shopping Takes Your Breath Away

Science Gallery Melbourne

‘Pollution Pods’ invites you to breathe in air from around the world. The art installation, created by British artist Michael Pinsky, is comprised of five geodesic domes connected by a walkway that allows visitors to vicariously experience the air quality across five global cities.  

The first pod is a breath of fresh air— replicating the pristine conditions found in the remote Norwegian island of Tautra. As visitors continue through the pods, they are exposed to the diminishing air quality in London, the punishing heat and pollution of New Delhi, and the visible smog in Beijing and São Paolo, some of the most polluted cities on Earth. 

Each dome simulates the noxious concentrations of ozone (O₃), nitrogen dioxide (O₂), sulphur dioxide (SO₂) and carbon monoxide (CO) that pose dangers to residents such as increased rates of respiratory diseases, cardiovascular disease, cancer and birth defects. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates air pollution to be responsible for over 4 million premature deaths per year, concentrated primarily in China, India and Southeast Asia. 

Fortunately, ‘Pollution Pods’ replicates these city conditions safely, rather than exposing visitors to the harmful emissions their occupants breathe in every day.  

While Melbourne boasts relatively clean air in comparison to the cities represented in ‘Pollution Pods’, our predisposition to wild bushfires has a devastating effect on our air quality. During the 2019/2020 summer bushfire season, our air was rapidly classified as ‘hazardous’, rendering us as one of the most unsafe cities to breathe in at that time.  

“During ‘Pollution Pods’, we all talked about how great Melbourne’s air quality was. Two months later, the bushfires hit and we were all wearing masks”.

Claire Farrugia, Science Gallery Melbourne.

The ‘Pollution Pods’ have toured the world, attracting more than 30,000 visitors to date. They offer a thought-provoking social commentary, that while Australians are fortunate enough to breathe in clean air most of the time, our economic reliance on the World’s Factories (namely China and India) centre us at the site of the problem. Residents are essentially being poisoned by airborne toxins created by their industries fulfilling manufacturing orders for Australians.  

What’s more, they are burning out coal to do it.  

Inside ‘Pollution Pods’, visitors can see, feel, taste and smell the crippling air pollution that has become normalised for many people globally— just one of the poisonous side effects of rampant consumerism. Hopefully, the visceral memory of the pods reminds us to think twice before buying more things we don’t really need. 

‘Pollution Pods’ was presented as part of White Night Melbourne in 2019 and appeared as part of Science Gallery Melbourne’s DISPOSABLE season.