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Scottish art & climate – carbon catchers to measure festival emissions

Pic 05 Carbon Catcher Catriona Patterson
Pic 05 Carbon Catcher Catriona Patterson
Written by editor

Spirit in the Air is a concept designed by Scottish environmental artists.

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Spirit in the Air is a concept designed by Scottish environmental artists.

Renowned international environmental artists Tim Collins, Reiko Goto and Chris Malcolm launched a project called Spirit in the Air: CO2 Edenburgh on August 2. They are using world-beating Scottish technology to measure how much CO2 is generated as audiences pack into theatres and galleries and traffic clogs the city’s streets during the Festival period.

The Scottish arts, high tech and science sectors have teamed up at the Edinburgh Festival to help combat climate change.

Festival-goers will encounter two uniformed “Carbon Catchers” roving the Scottish capital with state-of the-art detectors to find carbon hotspots. Monitoring stations have been set up in venues such as The Lyceum and the National Galleries and parks like Princes Street Gardens and Arthur’s Seat.

Tim said: “Art can start debate and this is what we aim to do by using the latest scientific tools to reveal the source and form of CO2. We are trying to see the environment, and present it to people, in a new way – like one of the early experiments by the Impressionists and Futurists.”

Spirit in the Air: CO2 Edenburgh is based at the Tent Gallery in Edinburgh College of Art where the artists are gathering real-time data streaming in from across the city to their studio-lab. Mini computers use LED displays and sound synthesis to express the data and reveal how it changes through the days and weeks.

One wall is covered in maps and photographs while another is dedicated to tracking the Carbon Catchers’ interactions with the public, CO2 and the city.

Spirit in the Air is co-produced by Creative Carbon Scotland which works with a wide range of creative organizations to help them reduce their emissions and encourages artists to use their influence to help build a more sustainable country.

Ben Twist, Director of Creative Carbon Scotland, said: “Spirit in the Air is all about looking at how art can change the climate – practically, socially and politically. With levels of CO2 having reached worrying new highs this year, the need to act is more urgent than ever.

“Scotland’s arts, science and technology sectors are taking a lead by coming together at the Edinburgh Festival to highlight in a compelling and immediate way how human behavior generates CO2.

“The festival provides a superb opportunity to encourage debate on how artists, arts organizations and the public can reduce their emissions and make a more sustainable Scotland. It’s also a chance to discuss the ways in which the arts and science can collaborate to take messages about climate change to a wider audience.”

Spirit in the Air: CO2 Edenburgh also involves a series of public discussions. Each week Chris Fremantle of ecoartscotland will present a CO2 Dialogue in the gallery. These explore art and science, the relationships between art, knowledge and activism, and what it means when artists engage the invisible forces that are already shaping our future environment.

Alan Henderson, Director of Glasgow-based Gas Sensing Solutions which is providing Spirit in the Air with its revolutionary new portable CO2 detectors, said: “This is an excellent project and shows how technology companies can work with the arts to combat climate change.

“There are other potential benefits too. If audiences start to yawn and nod off, it’s not that they are bored, but because the CO2 levels are too high.

“If theatres monitor the levels they can stop it happening – and they can also save around 25% on their energy bills, which is good for the environment and for their budgets.”

One of the major challenges for the project is getting the data to the Tent Gallery in real time from all over the city. This has been solved using a wireless system, from Envirologger Ltd., which has offices in Tewkesbury, and design and manufacturing in Dundee and Cumbernauld.

Jim Mills, Managing Director of Envirologger, said: “We are delighted to be involved in this project because it will help to raise awareness about both indoor and outdoor air quality.

“The Envirologger technology was developed to radically improve the availability and accessibility of monitoring data. All of our customers have one thing in common – they need quick, low cost, easy access to their data. For many, this means a web page on their PC, iPad or Smartphone, but in this project it will be music to the ears of Festival visitors.”

Spirit in the Air is also being backed by Creative Scotland. David Taylor, Portfolio Manager at Creative Scotland commented: “Creative Scotland is pleased to support the important debate that this innovative and collaborative project between art, science and technology will stimulate, particularly during the Edinburgh Festivals. It’s important for audiences to be able to engage in conversations about climate change and this project provides that opportunity.”

Spirit in the Air is part of the Edinburgh Art Festival. It takes place daily from noon to 5pm at the Tent Gallery on Westport, Edinburgh EH3 9DF.

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About the author


Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.