Air quality is essential to our health, but it’s easy to ignore that which we can’t see. A new project aims to visualize global air pollution data using eye-catching art installations in public places, making it easier to wrap our minds around the scale of the problem. Created by the Atta Society, an arts and technology collective based in Canada, “When Air Takes Shape” is currently crowdfunding to produce large-scale origami sculptures that move and change to reflect air quality readings.

Shapeshifting “When Air Takes Shape” origami sculpture in Vancouver, Canada.

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“Like air taking shape uniquely within our bodies, our lives, and the world around us, this installation changes shape based on real-time, region-specific data as an abstract representation of how air quality impacts us all differently,” the creators explain.

“This interactive installation encourages its audience to reflect on their personal relationship to air quality both locally and globally. It also evokes a lasting, emotional response for those living with the greatest consequences of air pollution through the shared experience of a simple act — breathing.”

Atta Society designers shape the interactive

The kinetic structures change shape in response to data from local sensors and global data from an open-source API. Audiences who gather to watch the installations will be instructed to follow the breathing pattern of the structure, breathing in with every expansion and out with every contraction to see what it feels like to breathe the air in a particular location.

They’ll even be able to select a region of interest to control the installation’s movements. A QR code will lead the audience to an educational website offering more information and actions to take in their daily lives to reduce global air pollution.

Atta Society aims to deploy the first edition of the “When Air Takes Shape” installation in summer 2023 at various locations within British Columbia. In the future, they plan to take the installation around the world. Their recent Kickstarter campaign raised 214 percent of their goal with the support of 95 backers. They’ve already created their preliminary designs and prototypes, and the funds raised will be used to construct the final sculptures and deploy them in public.

Computer rendering of a completed

Within the current climate emergency, human livelihoods are at stake,” the creators say. “Those in less developed regions are especially vulnerable to environmental crises. As far as our world is from being a collection of isolated utopias, many privileged individuals do not understand the urgency, or possess the knowledge, to act upon climate change.”

“However, our consumption demands can increase the risks of individuals dying from air pollution in other parts of the world. As an alarming example, U.S. consumption is responsible for about 100,000 deaths occurring elsewhere in the world. Of those deaths, about 50 percent occur in China, with another 20 percent occurring elsewhere in Asia. Yet, consumerism persists, paralleled with the exploitation of individuals and the environment.”

Atta Society designers shape the interactive

The “When Air Takes Shape” project makes air pollution feel more personal, wherever you may live in the world. To follow this project and watch for future exhibitions, follow the Atta Society on Instagram @attasociety and on Facebook.