Spirit in the Air sends Carbon Catchers onto the streets of Edinburgh Festival

By Culture24 Reporter | 07 August 2013

Live Art preview: Spirit in the Air: CO2 Edenburgh, The Tent Gallery, Edinburgh

A photo of a woman holding up a carbon dioxide sign while a man breathes fire
Carbon Catchers Catriona Patterson and Dave Young, poised here with fire eater Jake Martin, are roving the city streets measuring CO2 emissions during the Edinburgh Festival© Peter Dibdin
In May this year, carbon levels in the atmosphere breached the 400 parts per million mark for the first time – escalating far beyond their previous level, 280ppm, seen in the previous 10,000 years.

The reactions – numerous foreboding scientific statements, bleak tweets by Thom Yorke – were perhaps par for the critical course given the potential gravity of that stat.

But a set of Carbon Catchers, set up at calling points such as The Lyceum, Princes Street Gardens and the National Galleries in a bid to artily represent levels in Edinburgh via LED screens, will be one of the more unusual outcomes of the announcement.

This is part of Spirit in the Air, a project by environmental artists Tim Collins, Reiko Goto and Chris Malcolm as part of the hopefully-named Creative Carbon Scotland.

Using the latest technology, the trio will send two uniformed Catchers around the Scottish capital during festival month, identifying “carbon hotspots” around the buzzing theatres, galleries and streets.

A Glasgow-based group, Gas Sensing Solutions, has provided Spirit in the Air with the portable detectors.

“It shows how technology companies can work with the arts to combat climate change,” says its Director, Alan Henderson.

“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.”

The scheme is an often-complicated one – a wireless system is allowing organisers, based in the Tent Gallery at the Edinburgh College of Art, to approach the “major challenge” of gathering influxes of data in real time.

“Art can start debate,” says Collins, who has covered a wall of the mini-studio at the college in maps and photographs helping to track the changing levels.

“That 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 is at The Tent Gallery from 12pm-5pm daily. Talks take place at the gallery on August 7, 14 and 21 (3pm-5pm) and August 10 (1.30pm-4pm). Visit the project online for more.
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