Sansevieria, Clean Air, and Everything in Between

As a contributor to The Universal Sea Guide, I was utterly happy to get the news that the book arrived to my hometown today and I can also soon hold it in my hands. Not being in the city though, I still need to be a bit more patient, while in the present post I would like to share with you where and what I have been doing in the last couple of months.

As an artist, I have been working with environmental and ecological issues for some years now, which can be greatly contributed to my studies in, and experience of living in Indonesia, where I had the chance to return to with a new project at the beginning of this year. In the framework of project Ways Forward, I arrived to research the means by which artistic-activist approaches could contribute to tackle sustainability problems and in one way or another catalyzing a change, with a special focus on community-based practices. Indonesia with its collectivist mindset is an extremely fertile ground for such initiatives: the practice of working together (bersama-sama) is still penetrating various fields of life, including art as well. In my opinion, using this force may be regarded as one possible – or rather necessary – way forward.

Having a discussion about the relation of art-design-sustainability with the students of the Indonesian Institute of Arts and the architecture students of UGM-DorxLab therefore was welcomed. Being an artist myself, I attempt to grasp, mediate, or generate knowledge through art practice. Therefore, I also introduced my work in progress which reflects on the problem of air pollution. At first it may seem to have little relation to water pollution problems, which is in the focus of The Universal Sea project, but in fact, air pollutants do have an effect on the acidification of our waters, with widespread damage to plant and animal life as a consequence.

Yudianto Asmoro from the collaborative partner HONF Foundation also shared his expertise on Arduino programming and DIY sensors, which were crucial tools used in the project to understand pollution levels, and were elements of some installations as well.

Discussion at UGM-DorxLab (Photo: Ana Setyardyani Putri)

All works aim to raise awareness on the idea that in order to reduce air pollution, we need to eliminate or reduce anthropogenic-caused emissions as a first step, while the second step is to remediate existing pollutants, in which plants and city planning play a significant role. Urban greenbelts have the ability to improve air quality. In case of Yogyakarta, Regulation No. 26/2007 claims that 30% of the total area of the city must be used as green open space, from which 20% is public and 10% is private. However, case studies show that this number is not yet fully implemented in practice, which may sound like a global issue. On the other hand, air pollution is not only an outdoor but an indoor problem as well. Household activities like cooking emit various particles that are harmful for the environment and human health, while smoking further degrades the quality of indoor air. Inspired by a 1989 NASA Report which researched and tested plants that are the most effective in purifying (indoor) air, the project uses the Sansevieria plant as the main element of its objects and installations. Designated Breathing Zone invites the audience to inhale the air ventilated from an incubated plant modul. Using DIY sensors, Urban Data monitors the air quality of Yogyakarta: three samples exhibit the data of a smoking room, an outdoor space polluted by motorbike exhaust, and the interior of the installation Designated Breathing Zone.


Installations Designated Breathing Zone and Urban Data (Photo courtesy: Eva Bubla)

Both installations aim to give a critical response to the problem of air pollution, while in collaboration with Sekolah Akar Rumput, an engagement of the youth was also sought. During a workshop, students could experiment with building DIY objects utilising the abilities of the Sansevieria plant, based on the mechanisms of air purification devices already available on the market (hacking). The activity was meant to raise the awareness of children on the problem of pollution itself, and to get them familiar with the materials, mechanisms and lifestyle changes that would do good for their environment. It was great to experience how open and smart they were to react to and share about this issue!

DIY Workshop at Sekolah Akar Rumput (Photo courtesy: Ana Setyardyani Putri)

The results of the project were presented in an exhibition in HONF Gallery between 5-12 April 2019, and preparations for the next stage of the project have already started.