The Air We Breathe by Higher School of Economics

Air pollution is one of the most serious problems of our time. Polluted air harms animals and plants and affects human health, yet many still do not realize how dangerous the consequences can be. In a unique installation, we invited museum visitors to gain some perspective on this "silent" threat. We turned depersonalized air pollution statistics into a tangible piece of art that is understandable to both adults and young children. Balloon tornadoes tell the story of three major world capitals - Stockholm, Delhi, and our home, Moscow. Through a metaphor, they show what people breathe in different cities and how many of them live in a threatening environmental situation without realizing it.

We used data from 2020 (pre-COVID-19 to avoid data distortions). Each balloon in the installation represented 150,000 people. The level of air pollution was coded through garbage bags. By the guideline set by the World Health Organization (WHO) the air is considered safe to breathe when the content of PM2.5 particles does not exceed 10 micrograms per cubic meter (in 2021, the limit was reduced to 5 micrograms per cubic meter). So to encode the data, we created a scale where:

- A transparent balloon without a trash bag — the average annual concentration of PM2.5 particles is within the normal range (mcg/m3);
- A transparent balloon in one garbage bag — the norm is exceeded by 1-2.5 times;
- A transparent balloon in two garbage bags — the norm is exceeded by 2.5-4 times;
- A transparent balloon in three garbage bags — the norm is exceeded by 4-5.5 times;
- A transparent balloon in four garbage bags — the norm is exceeded by 5.5 or more times.

The installation was displayed in Darwin state museum.