Visualizing Global Air Quality

Innovative designer Elaine Yan Ling Ng pushes boundaries in textile design to create an interactive sculpture which explores environmental concerns

An interactive new installation by Chinese-British designer, Elaine Yan Ling Ng, commissioned by UBS, explores the pressing issue of global air pollution by visualizing data from UBS Evidence Lab, a specialist research facility. Inspired by nature and technology, the work 'Nexus', is powered by data analyzed by UBS Evidence Lab from more than 8,000 air quality monitoring stations around the world.

The World Health Organization has identified air pollution as a "public health emergency" and, as international awareness of the issue has increased, air quality is becoming more regulated to alleviate the situation. “I would like to see the sculpture as a reminder to everyone who cares about the environment”, the designer explains.

Ng has been experimenting with using cutting-edge textile technology to explore such sustainability issues in her work, often following the design principle of biomimicry - mimicking the behavior of nature. In this case, 'Nexus', is inspired by networks of forest trees and how they communicate with one another, much like data, through a multitude of interconnected unseen networks and models.

Ng uses a very fine paper pulp to create her sculptural weaves, fusing organic materials with technology to visually display information on the sculpture using individually-controlled LED lights. The audience controls the experience, choosing the cities and watching as the sculpture illuminates or dims illustrating how the air quality has changed in the selected locations over the past two years.

For Ng the impact of global air quality on the world is a vital issue: “Air is a fundamental element in our daily living. We are breathing the same air, but in different cities it smells and tastes different. If you break it down and look into it, Big Data represents numbers and figures that can inform design and help us to improve the way that we can live."

'Nexus' aims to provide an engaging visual reminder of this significant global problem. By inviting the public to interact with the information, 'Nexus' seeks to present the data on a human scale.

The touring modular installation was presented at the UBS Greater China Conference in Shanghai (7-11 January). It will feature in the UBS Lounge at Taipei Dangdai, a new international art fair in the Taiwanese capital (18-20 January 2019), presented by lead partner UBS. A complete family of three sculptures will be shown in the UBS VIP Lounge at Art Basel in Hong Kong, of which UBS is the Lead Partner (29-31 March 2019).

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