Visualizing Global Air Pollution

An innovative installation in the UBS Lounge at Art Basel Hong Kong transforms big data into a striking portrait of global air pollution

What if you could see air pollution? An innovative installation by Chinese-British designer Elaine Yan Ling Ng makes it possible to do just that, visualizing air pollution levels in 71 major cities worldwide. Commissioned by UBS, ‘Nexus’ is powered by big data from more than 8,000 air quality monitoring stations worldwide, analyzed by specialist research facility UBS Evidence Lab. The installation will feature in the UBS Lounge at Art Basel Hong Kong from 27-31 March 2019.

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 previously presented at the UBS Greater China Conference in Shanghai (7-11 January), and featured 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.

The three sculptures that will be shown in the UBS Lounge at Art Basel in Hong Kong represent a complete family. In 2019, UBS celebrates six years of support for Art Basel in Hong Kong, having served as lead partner of the global fair franchise since 1994.

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