Collaboration with mathematicians and climate modellers Rita van Dingenen
and Jean Philippe Putaud, JRC, European Commission, Ipsra, Italy

15 Carbon ink prints photographies, 100x150cm, carbon black particles, cartography

From the upper stratosphere to inside of our bodies, natural and polluted particles travel over the globe. This project takes the form of an installation of interwoven narratives and journeys on the trail of a meteor. Engaging the visitors into the manifold interactions of atmospheric flows and anthropic emissions, this installation opens a ground to reflect upon our mode of existence, our sense of common good and fairness today.
Our equipment on the expedition was composed of helmets crowned by a little camera, through which we crystallized each day’s journey in a photography taking a unique point of view: that of the skyline. Our walking device was also supplemented with breathing masks through which we trapped the black carbon particles we encountered and later transformed into ink used to print the photographies of the walk.

Fair Isle Light house, 23.05.2017, Carbon Black Level (PM2.5): 2,1 µg/m³, Carbon ink print, 100x150cm

Fair Isle harbour, 26.05.2017, Carbon Black Level (PM2.5): 12,2 µg/m³, Carbon ink print, 100x150cm

North Sea, 27.05.2017, Carbon Black Level (PM2.5): 13,8 µg/m³, Carbon ink print, 100x150cm

Scottish border, 02.06.2017 , Carbon Black Level (PM2.5): 5,16 µg/m³, Carbon ink print, 100x150cm

Folkestone, 10.06.2017, Carbon Black Level (PM2.5): 1,89 µg/m³, Carbon ink print, 100x150cm

Our story began on the northernmost island of Scotland, on the remote reef of Fair Isle. Despite the absence of industries, the little number of vehicles and heated households, as the wind blows southwest, the sixty islanders suffer from suffocation. That is how, early spring, doctors came to discover a grain of black carbon in a fold of the heart of the birdwatcher’s daughter.
Through the embodied perspective of this character we invented, we unravelled the journey of the anthropic meteor, which irrupted inside her body. We travelled back the point it was emitted_the exhaust of a ship on the English Channel, in the southern edge of the North Downs. We could retrace the precise itinerary of this particle by means of atmospheric backward trajectory models and European Commission daily analyses of anthropogenic emission of air pollutants. Yet, this abstract trajectory line lead us to journey of 837 miles by feet, ferry, fishing boat, bus and car. We dwelled through the arctic moorland of Fair Isle, on the edge of its vertiginous cliffs, home of Puffins, Siberian Passerines, Guillemots, Fulmars, escaping by an air's breadth the attacks of great skuas. We sailed through the tormented meeting line of the Atlantic Ocean and the North sea, walked through the coal field of Northumberland, walked over mountains and hills, pastures and fields, crossed the border of Scotland and England. We traversed the historical town of Edinburgh, the suburban areas of Nottingham, Leeds, Sutton-in-Ashfield, London and Borough market, a few days after the tragedy. To eventually reach the harbour of Folkestone.

Our equipment on the expedition was composed of helmets crowned by a little camera, through which we crystallised each day’s journey in a photography taking a unique point of view: that of the skyline. Our walking device was also supplemented with breathing masks and filters like kites through which we trapped the black carbon particles we encountered. These particles were later extracted by JRC scientist Jean-Philipe Putaud and turned into ink. In point of fact, black carbon is a collateral form of soot, used for centuries as the primary component of Indian ink. The photographies visible in the installation are thus composed with a percentage of ink composed from the particles filtered on the corresponding part of the walk.

Anti-black carbon masks of the expedition

Black carbon particles extracted from each masks of the expedition

Carbon ink print tests

From Medieval Latin, the term meteor (from meta : by means of and aeirein : to raise) refers to a celestial phenomena. Clouds, rainbow, hail or comet, this matter in aerial suspension forms the core of our investigation. Yet, the meteor of which we followed the trail is a man made particle: a grain of black carbon. Spectral dusts of our industrialised societies, black carbon particles are produced from the incomplete combustion of coal, lignite, heavy oil or biomass. They result from our transport and industrial activities, households or even from the erosion of our roads and the abrasion of tyres. These pollutant particles disperse with the wind. They drift in a few days along atmospheric currents and fall several hundred kilometres away from their point of emission. Some are regularly found on the white crust of the Arctic where they play a significant role in the melting of the ice. Like every black object they easily warm up in sunlight, transfer their heat to snow and ice, indirectly participating in the global rise of sea level.

Moreover, this particulate matter of less that 2.5 µm (in aerodynamic diameter) knows no limit between inside and outside. Associating everyone and everything in an unbound meddling1, they enter our bodies, penetrate the membrane of our lungs, reach the deeper folds of our brains, flow with our blood cells and trigger deaths. According to World Health Organisation, 3,5 millions of person died per year by just breathing the outside air, this without mentionning the diseases to come. Yet, is it their invisible, intangible and even inodorous presence that doesn’t prompt us to react? In contrast to carbon dioxide, whose lifetime spans over several decades black carbon remains in the atmosphere for only a few weeks. Reducing its emission would drastically diminish this sanitary tragedy and immediately slow down the warming rate of the planet, and to a large extend, the rapid change of the Arctic.

This project was realised with the athmospheric scientists Rita Van Dingenen, Jean-Philipe Putaud and their colleagues in a shared expertise and imaginaries through which we cconstructed the possibility of this narratives and the expedition. Our endeavour with this project was to give consistence to the danger we create, addressing the unfair impact of a choice of society on the earth and atmosphere, as well as on the health of local inhabitants and most remote fellows.