Dr Jasmine Pradissitto from United Kingdom

We can only live for 3 minutes without air.....

As a physicist, I once wrote an essay on the changing climate resulting from our industrial progress, long before it had become so globally devastating. As an academic, I have spoken to 10’s of thousands of students, children, and institutions on the use of STEAM subjects and education to protect the increasingly fragile environment which sustains our very survival. But it was only as an artist and more importantly a mother, that it became so personal and so visceral, that I was compelled to pioneer pollution-absorbing sculptures and public installations. Art that shares the narrative that not only does 1 in 10 humans now need an asthma puffer to take a breath, but also the story of how it affects the smallest of creatures that pollinate the plants that become 1 in 3 mouthfuls of our food.

5 years ago, my now 23-year-old son, had a major asthma attack. We had never experienced that before and sitting in A&E in Lewisham all night watching him struggle on a nebuliser made me think about creating work to share how it feels when an invisible enemy takes hold of all our precious children. The very children inheriting a broken world they did not create.

A year later, I was commissioned by Euston Town and The Mayor of London Fund to create a piece for one of the most polluted roads in the country. There is a reason synchronicity is one of my favourite terms; not long after I met a company making a ceramic, 3 kg of which can clean an average-sized room of nitrogen dioxide (NOx) pollution. NOx is the toxic yellow haze emitted by everything from hobs to vehicles and the thing we see as a layer on city skylines. ‘Breathe’ was recently installed above the Camden People’s Theatre, at a time when Camden now has the densest number of air detectors anywhere in the world. And last year, we installed ‘Flower Girl who will awaken upon the buzzing or the bees’ in the Horniman Museum Gardens to help pollinators find their flowers on the highly toxic South Circular. Only this week I met a grandmother who told me she visits regularly with her granddaughter to see whether her eyes had opened yet.

That story alone was enough to remind me of the power of storytelling.

As communities, we once drew on cave walls long before we had the language to tell the stories that would protect our children and sustain future generations. My work reminds us that an equitable future, in which clean air is a fundamental human right, is defined by our past; a past in which we lived in harmony with all things.

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