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Digital Atmosphere – a Mixed Reality sculpture reacting to air pollution in real time

Digital Atmosphere is a Mixed Reality experience from internationally renowned digital artist duo Daria Jelonek and Perry-James Sugden, known as Studio Above&Below. The piece looks at how technology and art can illuminate the quality of air, usually invisible to the naked eye, and bring us an urgent step closer to a sustainable future. At a time when the safety of our air is at the front and centre of our public consciousness, this digital installation is a timely technological and artistic endeavour.

“Even if the air looks clear, it is certain that you will inhale tens of millions of solid and liquid particles, travelling from one side of the planet to the other. These ubiquitous specks of matter are known as aerosols, which are invisible to the eye, however not invisible to our lungs. With Digital Atmosphere we are investigating a future in which clear air may be a reality through giving nature a voice. The impact of air pollution on our bodies became especially clear throughout the current Covid-19 pandemic.”

Studio Above&Below

Using digital and sensor technology, the sculpture’s Atmo Sensor picks up the invisible change of air quality of the immediate environment, which is translated into an evocative visual simulation, visible to the viewer through the Mixed Reality headset.

The physical shape and digital behaviour of the artwork is inspired by investigations into early air pollution devices, including rudimentary ones which used canary birds, and computational flocking systems, sensing, reacting and visualising changes of air quality in a poetic way.

The project is supported through Broadway’s art and tech Near Now Fellowship and is the outcome of a year-long research and development commission into AR/MR technology and live data inputs in order to give our environment a voice, make the invisible visible and create dynamic public artworks. Digital Atmosphere can be experienced at HeK Basel throughout spring 2021.

The research and design process involved three elements: 

  1. Air quality/ air pollution data – Development of a bespoke ‘Atmo Sensor’ – reading Particulate Matter (specifically PM 2.5, PM 10 – fine particles causing lung inflammation and worsening of lung and heart conditions) data in real-time and feeding it into a generative digital sculpture (using the games development engine Unity). The sensor was developed and built in collaboration with INT, a Swiss design studio. 
  2. Magic Leap Spatial Experience – the project also investigates meaningful headset-based Mixed Reality (Magic Leap) experiences. With this project, Studio Above&Below aim to push the boundaries of this emerging technology and use it for making the invisible experiential. For more information on the headset technology used in this project see www.magicleap.com.
  3. Physical and Digital InteractionDigital Atmosphere plays with the exhibition space and outdoor space and the physical sculpture, adding hand gesture interactions and real world physics, such as collision, in order to play with physics in space. This research looks at how people can connect with their environment in a new way, through a mixed physical and digital experience.

Technologies used: Unity (LWRP, VFX, Python, C Sharp), Magic Leap, Raspberry Pi, Atmo Sensor

Credits: Concept & Design: Studio Above&Below | Perry-James Sugden, Daria Jelonek; Technical Development: Studio Above&Below | Perry-James Sugden; Production: Studio Above&Below; Sensor Production: INT Studio; Sound Design: Einar Fehrholz; Film Production: Sam Travis, Joseph Ollman; Film Staging Support: Jungwon Jung, Laurène Ciocco, Joe Davidson; Supported by: NEAR NOW, Broadway | Lee Nicholls; Special thanks to  Kings College, SET Space.

Project Page | Studio Above&Below

Supported using public funding by Arts Council England

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