Kite-mounted air quality monitoring with f-l-o-a-t
In 2008, olympic cyclists from the United States arrived in Beijing wearing respiratory masks due to perceived health risks from poor air quality. Air pollution has thusly presented a perennial diplomatic challenge in the rocky Sino-American relationship. This June, in a direct attack on the US Embassy, which has been releasing onsite air quality readings through a Twitter handle, @beijingair (Twitter is blocked in China) since 2008, Wu Xiaoqing, Vice Minister of Environmental Protection, stated in Xinhua a state-run Chinese news outlet–
a foreign embassy’s monitoring and issuing of air quality data in China is technically inaccurate and goes against international conventions and Chinese laws (sic).
a participatory art/design/mapping project using air quality sensing kites. through the poetics + playfulness of kite flying, float sparks and initiates dialogue on urban environmental health issues, and gives agency to city dwellers to map, record and engage actively in the monitoring of their environment.
Through a series of workshops, participants put together circuit boards that recorded air quality readings, connected these sensors to a kite, and flew the kit hundreds of feet into the air to record air quality at the higher altitudes.
Kite flying is a very popular activity amongst retired-age Chinese men, so this aspect of the project provided for involvement of a diverse group of participants.
Unfortunately, I experienced an unfortunate turn of events toward the end of the workshop as I was speaking to a pleasant, curious Chinese couple. In the middle of our conversation, the the organizers pulled me aside while I was discussing my job (whoops!) with the couple to inform me that this “couple,” in fact, was a couple of undercover officers had been hassling them for the length of the project, which I must add was, of course, entirely innocuous.