Artist Michael Pinsky’s Climate-Action Plan: “Pollution Pods”
A new traveling exhibition gives visitors a whiff of global travel—just not the scents you’re wont to remember. “Pollution Pods,” a collaboration between artist Michael Pinsky, the innovation lab IFF, and a coterie of perfumers, simulates the conditions of urban air quality from five locales around the world: Norway, London, Delhi, Beijing, and São Paulo. Last month, following installations in England, Switzerland, Germany, and Norway over the past year, the pods were stationed outside the U.N. in New York, where they were visited by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.
Set in a cluster of geodesic domes, each room evokes a visceral, sensory portrait through controlled variables ranging from scent to temperature to humidity. In the so-called “Pure Dome,” Norway’s pristine landscape is portrayed as fresh and pure, straight from a pine forest on a crisp winter day—a stark contrast to the notes of burning coal and sulfur conjured to portray the extreme air pollution of Beijing, or the car exhaust and diesel fumes engineered to evoke another high-traffic day on London’s Piccadilly Circus. Touring the U.N. installation, Thunberg was reported to have “certainly responded to each atmosphere with a certain amount of horror.” Light on glamour and escapism, it may not be a travel experience that will necessarily leave one wanderlusting, which seems precisely the point. The nose knows: There are real consequences to our carbon footprints, and by highlighting the invisible, “Pollution Pods” leaves visitors wheezy or even queasy, eyes wide open.