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Ignore this – Environmental Advocacy As Art

Art as advocacy

Innovative art is often described as a 'breath of fresh air.'

Beijing artist, Liang Kegang, has taken this concept to a new level with his latest piece – a sealed jar of clean air. The air collected in Provence, France sold for $860 at a Beijing art auction last month.

When asked about the work, Kegang was quoted saying the commodification of fresh air served, “to question China's foul air and express my dissatisfaction."

Dissatisfaction is an understatement when discussing much of China's air quality. Smog causes the premature death of roughly 350,000 to 500,000 Chinese citizens a year according to China’s former health minister, Chen Zhu. Last year Beijing’s air was on average about 10 times more polluted than levels considered healthy by the World Health Organization.

Kegang is one of a host of Chinese artists who’ve begun drawing international attention to China’s serious air pollution problem. While these particular eco-artists’ focus is on China, their simple yet effective messaging should translate globally.

Environmental art, like grassroots initiatives, illustrates that micro-programs and individual advocacy can be catalysts for lasting change. The concept we’re calling ‘eco-art’ demonstrates environmental innovation and stewardship can take root when they’re connected with an emotion or more personal experience.

We’ll continue to explore this interplay between art and clean tech over the coming month, isolating key messages to help drive public awareness and policy.

As a start, we have a rundown of some recent eco-art programs receiving global attention:

January 2014: Notorious Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei posts a picture of himself in a gas mask on Twitter to express his frustration with abysmal air quality.

February 2014: Twenty Beijing artists sporting gas masks play dead in front of the city’s popular Temple of Heaven Park.

March 2014: Artists in Changsha hold a mock funeral for what they imagined would be the death of the city’s last citizen due to smog.

March 30, 2014: Chengdu-based artist Li Yongzheng is the highest bidder for Liang Kegang’s jar of fresh air. The Chinese entrepreneur pays 5,250 yuan ($860) for the piece.

The intimate nature of these gestures reminds us of what is on the line, and it’s inherently shareable, lending itself nicely to proliferation in the social media sphere.

North American clean technology advocates can take notes from the passion and simplicity demonstrated by these Chinese artists, potentially tapping into their own creative messaging to craft statements that stick.

Produced by: Remi Dalton

*Note: Since publishing this blog, Ai Weiwei has developed a series of new eco-advocacy projects and recently posted a gallery site well-worth visiting at: