Digital Atmosphere

An augmented reality experience by Studio Above&Below

Supported by Broadway's Near Now Fellowship, Digital Atmosphere is a sculptural augmented reality experience by Studio Above&Below.

The air we breathe contains solid and liquid particle matter, travelling from one side of the planet to the other. These ubiquitous specks are invisible to the eye, but not to human lungs.

Smaller particulate matter (PM) types, known as PM10 and PM2.5, are the most harmful form of air pollution. PM10 is small enough to reach your airways, while PM2.5 is able to penetrate deep into your lungs.

According to Friends of the Earth, air pollution — caused mostly by road traffic  — is one of the UK's biggest killers, and is responsible for an estimated 36,000 premature deaths per year. It is particularly impactful in our towns and cities, and disproportionately affects the most vulnerable people in our society.

Digital Atmosphere investigates a future in which clear air may be a reality through giving nature a voice. It reveals how technology and art can illuminate the quality of our air and bring us an urgent step closer to a sustainable, zero-emissions future.

Exposure to such pollution, the most deadly of which scientists call PM2.5, is the sixth highest risk factor for death around the world, claiming more than 4 million lives annually.

— Breathtaking: The Weight of Numbers (Air Pollution and PM2.5), Undark.org

Digital Atmosphere, sculpture and augmented reality installation by Studio Above&Below, 2020. Credit: Studio Above&Below

Digital Atmosphere, sculpture and augmented reality installation by Studio Above&Below, 2020. Credit: Studio Above&Below

An augmented reality sculpture

Digital Atmosphere's bespoke Atmo Sensor reads the invisible changes of air quality in its immediate environment. This is translated into an evocative visual simulation, visible to the viewer through an augmented reality headset or, in future iterations of the project, a smartphone. This first iteration of the project was developed using a Magic Leap 1 headset.

The sensor, embedded in the centre of the physical sculpture, reads levels of PM10 and PM2.5 in the air around it. This data is captured in real-time and fed into a generative digital sculpture (using the games development engine Unity).

The Atmo Sensor at the heart of the physical sculpture which captures live air pollution data. Video Still. Credit: Joseph Ollman, Sam Travis

The Atmo Sensor at the heart of the physical sculpture which captures live air pollution data. Video Still. Credit: Joseph Ollman, Sam Travis

The sensor was developed and built in collaboration with INT, a Swiss design studio. The code and instructions for building the sensor will be released with an open source licence.

The physical shape and digital behaviour of the augmented reality visuals 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.

With the rapid development of augmented reality technology in smartphones and popular engagement with location-mapped AR apps (such as Pokémon GO), the potential to reach public audiences across a city using multiple sculptures is the next stage of development for the project.

Above&Below’s installations could put the choice of the air we breathe into the hands of the public, empowering individuals to find greener, cleaner pathways through our cities.

The experience includes a short introductory film, giving further depth to the project and encouraging the viewer to visualise a sustainable, zero-carbon emissions future for our cities and shared environments.

Get involved

Digital Atmosphere is part of the exhibition Shaping the Invisible World at HeK, Basel, 21 January 2021 – 14 March 2021.

Shaping the Invisible World examines cartography as a tool between knowledge and technology. The exhibition presents a selection of artists who use cartographic strategies and location technologies to discuss geopolitical contexts, uncover hidden worlds and unknown realities.

Studio Above&Below are currently seeking new business opportunities with organisations who are invested in sustainable technology and innovative uses of XR to help develop this project further.

For more information about Digital Atmosphere and upcoming international touring please visit studioaboveandbelow.com.

For installation and exhibition opportunities or if you would like to discuss how to be involved in the future development of Digital Atmosphere please get in touch.

About Above&Below

Studio Above&Below is a London-based art and design studio formed by Daria Jelonek and Perry-James Sugden. Their work combines XR, speculative storytelling and digital art to draw together unseen connections between humans, machines and the environment.

Believing in research-based art, Above&Below works with scientists, technologists and other artists to push the boundaries of digital media for future living.

studioaboveandbelow.com


Digital Atmosphere is the result of a year-long R&D process supported by the Near Now Fellowship.

  • 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

Special thanks to Broadway, Kings College London, and SET Studios.

Digital Atmosphere is supported using public funding by Arts Council England.