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Suffocating City Art Installation by Leo Jamelli

Festival of the Future City

Arnolfini  |  Free

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Don’t just stand by and watch, do something to stop your city from ‘suffocating’! A new piece of interactive public art will challenge spectators to take action to tackle the impact of air pollution on our cities and their inhabitants.

Southwest artist Leo Jamelli has created the ‘Suffocating City’ installation to raise public awareness of the worsening problem of urban air pollution and encourage people to adopt a greener approach to city living to help address the climate emergency. Air quality has been identified as the greatest environmental threat to public health globally. 

Funded by Arts Council England, the animation represents the city as a living organism with a heart, lungs, and intestines; industrial pipes are attached to these human organs, symbolising the brutal impact of industrialisation and air pollution on our health. 

Suffocating City will be projected onto the Arnolfini in Bristol from 18-19 October 2023 at 6-10.30pm on both days, as part of Bristol Ideas’ Festival of the Future City. Members of the public will be encouraged to interact with the installation by using pedal power to keep the ‘organism’ alive. 

The imagery has been inspired by the concerns of community groups in Bristol and informed by research carried out by The Met Office and members of the Clean Air Champions. 

Creator Leo Jamelli says, ‘The organs will struggle to function and almost suffocate due to air pollution; I wanted to take a different approach with the imagery for this project to show inhabitants of large urban areas, who may seem disconnected from the natural world, that climate issues will also have a serious impact on those living in our cities. 

‘As the animated organs begin to fail due to air pollutants, the heart goes into cardiac arrest. An old-fashioned exercise bike acts as a defibrillator, and spectators can take action by pedalling to charge it up – helping bring the city back to life. The suggestion is that alternative forms of greener energy can help save our cities.’

Bristol was the European Green Capital in 2015 and has now declared a climate emergency. High levels of air pollution have led to the development of the newly introduced Clean Air Zone.

Leo Jamelli’s hand-drawn animation will be accompanied by sound, created by Moss Covered Technology, aka Grieg Baird, breathing life into this huge project. Devon-based Stage Engage is providing the equipment for the projection at a reduced cost.

Naomi Miller of Bristol Ideas says, ‘The air in most of our towns and cities is up to five times more polluted than the World Health Organisation Air Quality Guidelines recommend. Leo Jamelli’s sensitive new artwork, Suffocating City, brings the hearts and lungs of our cities to life and reminds us how much is at stake. We are delighted to be showing it as part of this year’s Festival of the Future City, where audiences will be invited to engage with these topics further.’

The artwork draws on information from the Clean Air Champions, who bring together outstanding researchers in the fields of atmospheric, medical, and social science to develop solutions to tackle air quality issues.  

Professor Sir Stephen Holgate is an authority on environmental pollution and has published influential reports on its health impacts.  He says, ‘We urgently need to clean up the air we depend upon for life because dirty air is now known to be one of the greatest environmental risks to health, accounting for 7 million deaths around the world every year. Air pollution also has insidious effects, sometimes triggering a severe worsening of diseases such as asthma or coronary heart disease, most often adding to other stressors in accelerating many different diseases.

‘We are exposed to air pollution, both indoors and out, throughout our lifetime. In addition, air pollution is an issue of social injustice, with those most affected being those who are most deprived. As this artwork shows, this public health emergency demands we all take action to drive down emissions. In doing so, we will also help save the planet because air pollution and climate change are two sides of the same coin.’

Noel Nelson has worked for the Met Office for over 30 years as an air quality scientist and has engaged with the Government on air quality matters. He says, ‘The challenges we face regarding poor air quality are pervasive, insidious, and intrinsically linked to our modern way of life. Air pollution is gradually making all of us ill and shortening our lives. The development of sustainable solutions requires effort not just from scientists, but from a wide range of experts and the general public. The work of the Met Office and the UKRI Clean Air Champions seeks to bring together expertise from all relevant sectors. This art installation will impress upon us all the urgent need for change. It is essential that we tackle this issue collectively – we all have a role to play.’

With Bristol Green Capital Partnership, the project is connecting with community groups who have highlighted air pollution as an issue of concern in their community action plans. As a large piece of public impact art, Suffocating City will help people visualise what is happening in our cities and encourage dialogue to inspire positive change.

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