Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art launches light-based ASU project to address air quality issues

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The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) will be the first venue to showcase a new art and engineering initiative from Arizona State University on November 4.

Funded by ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, “The Air Around Us” aspires to raise awareness of poor air quality conditions in the Phoenix metro area. In addition to real-time visualizations of current conditions, those behind the initiative hope to contribute to the data narrative while creating opportunities for change and actionable response to poor conditions.

The project includes a series of glass organs – brain, heart and lungs – which light up from within. The color displayed in the organs will visualize real-time air quality conditions from a network of sensors. In this system, red indicates poor air quality, yellow means moderate air quality, and green means good air quality.

Each object is driven by a triangulation of data relating to the physical geography in which the object is presented. Additionally, an AI-based predictive modeling system represents the community’s air quality trajectory into the future if no action is taken to improve air quality.

In addition to SMoCA, other installations from the series will appear at the Idea Museum and the Sagrado Galleria. Each site has a different sculpture, all of which receive real-time site-specific air quality data. Each site’s predictive modeling system will also display a picture of each slowly collapsing institution.

The SMoCA sculpture will be visible on November 4 in the museum’s display case and will remain until spring 2023. Due to the location of the window, the installation will also be visible when the SMoCA is closed.

“SMoCA is thrilled to present this project in collaboration with ASU, The Sagrado Galleria and Idea Museum,” said Julie Ganas, Curator of Engagement and Digital Initiatives at the museum. “We hope ‘The Air Around Us’ will spark conversations about air quality in the Phoenix metro area by using art as a vehicle to raise awareness of this pressing issue and its effects on our community.”

Since conversations about the physiological impacts of poor air quality often center on the lungs and pulmonary systems, this project aims to show how other important organs are also affected. The promoters of the project hope to see the well-being of the region as a geographical body through the creation of this network of facilities.

Max Bernstein, professor of film and media production at ASU, is the project manager for this initiative. Bernstein said they hope to create greater awareness of both the slow-moving violence of poor air quality and the equity issues associated with the reality that poor air quality adversely affects disproportionately vulnerable populations in the community.

“In the process of designing and producing this artwork, we also want to keep the carbon footprint of our initiative as low as possible, so as not to further aggravate environmental conditions with our gesture,” Bernstein said. “We have decided to work with sustainable materials, including recycled glass and low-power electronics. We have also partnered with local artists and makers – The Melting Point and Weld House – who will use locally sourced materials to reduce shipping footprints while investing in creators in our region.”

The timing of this installation coincides with the first day of another Scottsdale Arts project, the 10-night Canal Convergence event at the Scottsdale Waterfront, which features light-based artwork like “The Air Around Us.” Also inside the SMoCA during the installation of “The Air Around Us”, another exhibition focusing on the art of light: “Phillip K. Smith III: Three Parallels”.

SMoCA is located at 7374 E. Second St., Scottsdale, Arizona 85251. It is open Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Visit SMoCA.org for more information.

Admission is $10-$12 for non-members; $7 to $9 for students, seniors (65+) and veterans; and free for Scottsdale Arts ONE members, healthcare workers, first responders, and patrons 18 and under. Admission to the museum is free every Thursday and every second Saturday of the month. Timed entrance tickets are required. Save time and money by booking online at SMoCA.org.

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