An audio-visual installation and event at Royal West of England Academy 2019

‘Smutty Atoms’ comes from ‘Fumifugium, or, the inconvenience of the aer and smoake of London dissipated, together with some remedies humbly proposed,’ This was the first known book on London air pollution, written in 1661, by John Evelyn.

Evelyn wrote about the terrible smoke pollution problems caused by industries such as smelting. He referred to this problem (which was mainly soot) as ‘smutty atoms’.

‘Smutty Atoms’ used data harvested over two months from an air pollution monitor placed on the RWA balcony.

The data was transformed into sound.  The music was played through a suspended ‘organ’ and ‘air pollution’ ink to create the dramatic visual backdrop.


left: Putting the monitor at the foot of a statue behind the pigeon netting! 

The background visuals were created by the sound being played through ink, placed car oil-sump. This makes  the ‘standing wave’ patterns you can see here. 

The ink was ‘Air Ink’ which is made from captured and recycled air pollution from car exhausts in Delhi and Mumbai.

The sooty residue is processed to take out the carcinogens, the carbon is removed from and turned into ink. 100ml of ink is equivalent to two and half hours of diesel exhaust taken out of the atmosphere.

smutty organ
The Organ

The organ is made from car exhaust manifolds. I used transducers to make the sound; transducers vibrate the metal rather than the air (like a loudspeaker) to make sound. They were attached to the manifolds and therefore instrument creates its own noise while rattling.  

I like the visceral, bodily quality that the exhaust manifolds have and with the wires trailing off like veins adds to the look of it being an organ in both senses of the word to me. 

Sooty Fireweed

The solution to air pollution, Evelyn suggested, was to plant sweet-smelling trees and plants to purify the air.  

I placed soot covered flowers within the installation. They are commonly known as ‘fireweed’ and are one of the first plants to grow on burnt sites. 

I find it really interesting that over 350 years later plants remain a recommended solution. 

coffin shop
Children’s Workshop

I ran a workshop for children on the theme of air pollution as part of the event.

We had fun creating ‘dastardly and despicable’ solutions for the problem.

It was very funny as we thought of the evillest ways of getting rid of pollution. The intention was to have a conversation without it being too overwhelming depressing for the children.

Solutions included; sending it to other planets. Clearly, the out of sight out of mind solution. And my favourite: ‘Coffin Shop’ – burying people with what they produce  (different sizes available). Evil genius award.