NEWS
01/11/2018 10:12 PM IST | Updated 01/11/2018 10:12 PM IST

'Delhi Was The Worst': An Artist's Installation Lets You Sample Air Pollution From Cities Across The World

The British artist who created the immersive 'pollution pods' said choosing Delhi was a no-brainer.

The air pollution pods installed by artist Michael Pinsky in Geneva.
Malavika Vyawahare
The air pollution pods installed by artist Michael Pinsky in Geneva.

GENEVA, Switzerland — Visitors at the pollution pods exhibit at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, as part of the WHO's air pollution summit could be seen scurrying out one particular pod, designed to recreate the pollution in India's capital, Delhi.

The installation, made up of five geodesic domes that look like plastic igloos, emulates air pollution in five cities: Delhi (India), São Paulo (Brazil), London (UK), Beijing (China) and Tautra (Norway). The domes are interconnected, separated by short passages and PVC strip curtains to isolate the conditions inside each dome.

'Couldn't stand it for more than two minutes'

"I couldn't stand it for more than two minutes, more than that and I would be sick," Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health said of the Delhi enclosure.

It was a common reaction.

Michael Pinsky, the British artist who created the immersive installation aimed at evoking visceral reactions to the pollution, told Huffpost India that choosing Delhi was a no-brainer.

The trick to creating authentic pollution pods, according to an engineer who put up the installation, was getting the smell and the temperature right.

"New Delhi is quite famous for having the worst pollution in the world. While I was developing the project New Delhi's air pollution exceeded 1000 (on the Air Quality Index), it was November 2016," Pinsky said. "There were a lot of pictures of the marathon and people with their masks on, it was absolutely awful. New Delhi was definitely a city I was going to pick, no doubt about it."

Monitors placed inside each dome displayed the air quality the visitor was experiencing. To the relief of visitors, Pinsky explained that the pollution was not real, just a chemical cocktail.

The trick to creating authentic pollution pods, according to an engineer who put up the installation, was getting the smell and the temperature right.

Malavika Vyawahare
Inside the New Delhi air pollution pod.

'Delhi by Avinash Mali'

The scent of pollution for all the cities was prepared by International Flavors & Fragrances, a New York-based company that calls itself an "innovator of sensorial experiences".

Pinsky's project was a peculiar challenge for a company that prides itself in pleasing people's senses. The scent of pollution was meant to irritate and jolt.

What visitors experienced in the Delhi dome was called 'Delhi by Avinash Mali'. The chemical mix, formulated by perfumer Avinash Mali, was meant to capture the smell of vehicular emissions, fumes from burning plastic, crop burning, the burning of cow dung and crop residues for cooking.

"New Delhi was the worst, worse than Beijing."

Dimethyl Octanol was used as a proxy for industry emissions, while Natrotar, a kind of pine tar, was used to emulate agricultural emissions, synthetic animalic material was used to reproduce the odour of dirty water, garbage and some of IFF's existing fragrances were used for burnt wood.

The effect was nausea-inducing, a normal polluted day in Delhi with an air quality index of about 300. But for people not used to the conditions, like Zi Rui, a student from Shanghai living in France, they were "awful, terrible".

"New Delhi was the worst, worse than Beijing," Rui said, "I get in and get out in a few seconds."