Ignorance is bliss... unless it has to do with the air you are breathing. I learned this on Saturday when I went to the Particle Falls lecture and panel discussion. I didn't do much research before the talk, and overall, I didn't know what to expect. I went because the piece by Andrea Polli looked intriguing, and I wanted to know more about it. What I got from the lecture and discussion was something much more informational and alarming.
There is something extremely powerful about the way data can be visualized through art. Andrea Polli, in her lecture, describes this as ambient visualization—"data-driven expression that shifts audience attention between foreground and background." This type of art practice allows for data to be seen in ways that make it more interactive and informational. The works are quiet and beautiful, yet extremely powerful in propelling the mobilization of concern and action. In Andrea's lecture, works such as Particle Falls and Alright Taipei truly transform the data to make the viewer feel compelled to act—I know that I felt compelled to act.
Randy Sargent of Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute and The Breathe Project showed the audience the Breathe Cam, a time-lapsed view of parts of Pittsburgh's skyline. The transformation of Pittsburgh's beautiful landscape into a time-lapsed view allows for people to see the skyline and horizon at its best (with clear views of the far away mountains) and at its worst (with no visibility of those same mountains). The Breathe Cam also allows viewers to see where smog and pollution may be coming from.
Along with these informative images, both Rachel Filippini of GASP (Group Against Smog and Pollution) and Ryan Grode of SWPA-EHP (Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project) gave statistics on air quality and told stories of people that they meet and interact with every day. They also gave advice on how individuals can get involved with helping to clean the air in Pittsburgh. For example, you can sign up to monitor the air quality of your home with a Speck Monitor.
It can be hard to hear that of 338 urban cities in America, Pittsburgh is rated at 8.9% for its air quality. It can be hard to hear that a few days ago, the air quality was at an orange level but that this information was not announced by local news channels. It can be hard to hear that the city that you call home can cause you lung, heart, and other health problems that can ultimately lead to death. But no matter how horrifying the facts, discussions like the one held at the Particle Falls lecture allow for people to come together to be informed in a way that lets them know that they are not alone. Discussions such as this have allowed me to open my eyes to the smog and pollution that I have been living under for the past 3 years, which I was completely ignorant to prior to Saturday. More importantly, it has allowed me to rethink my actions. If we cannot change the whole system right now, the least we can do is to start with individuals, because changing one person is still better than the status quo.
If you haven't made the trip to see Particle Falls, then you should. It is projected on the Benedum Center in Downtown Pittsburgh––the 700 block of Penn Avenue––and it will be showing until December 31st.