An Artist's Journey to the Cleanest and Dirtiest Cities in the World


Image from BBC

The artist Angela Palmer decided to try and capture the essence of climate change by visiting the most polluted place on earth and the purest. She had a dream that she would wear a white suit in these two far-flung places and see how the air affected it.

Her choices were the smoggy, coal-producing city of Linfen, China and the pristine and serene Cape Grim in Tasmania, Australia. She spent a week in each, collecting air samples, puddle samples and studying the effect of the air on her pure white outfit. The exhibition, Breathing In, is an exploration of what she found in these two extreme environments.


Image from BBC: Cape Grim

She spent a week in Cape Grim in the north west tip of Tasmania, with its wide vast open seas and cleansing blasts of winds. She found the place to be very reserved and silent, with no community spirit. As she said: "People were hidden from sight behind net curtains. Picket fences surrounded properties, enclosing perfectly manicured gardens."


Image from BBC: Linfen

Linfen is the city with the world's most polluted air and water and has been described as the world's 'hell on earth'. Palmer said that it was "blackened with generations of coal dust. The smell of rotten eggs in the polluted air was at times overwhelming."

But, by contrast, the people seemed happier, friendlier and more at ease with their surroundings. She said that despite the respiratory diseases and the lead poisoning, the streets were alive with people and exuberant with life. Palmer wrote: "After a few days, I longed for the sense of community so electrifying and absorbing in the streets of Linfen."


Image from the BBC: Face Cleansers from 2 cities

In both places she collected puddle, shampoo, and river water and air samples, recovered abandoned objects and captured local social activity on film and in photographs. Palmer wore her white suit for one day and photographed how it looked after that time.


When she returned to the UK, she asked scientists to analyse her findings. Microscopic images of collected air particles are on display in a glass case, alongside bottles of air and water from the two cities. There are also two videos of the sights and sounds of the cities.

Angela Palmer is an artist who is concerned with the environment and the impact of climate change. Her other piece of work now on display in London is a massive collection of tree trunks from Ghana.

Of course this one is a statement on pollution and its impact. But it is also a fascinating and thought-provoking statement on people and how they live their lives and what makes a life.

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