For the last 100 days, as world leaders prepared for a U.N. climate summit and as the air above northern China took on the look of a smoker’s lung, performance artist Wang Renzheng, known as “Nut Brother” has been vacuuming the air in Beijing. Dressed like a janitor-turned-end-times-prophet in blue coveralls and a gas mask, Nut Brother has spent four hours each day collecting pollutants that would normally end up in the lungs of the city’s 11.5 million residents. At the end of the 100 days, Nut Brother mixed the dust with clay and shaped it into a brick.
He told the Guardian:
“I want to show this absurdity to more people,” Wang, 34, said on Tuesday as pollution levels in the Chinese capital soared to levels 40 times higher than those deemed safe by the World Health Organisation.
“I want people to see that we cannot avoid or ignore this problem [and] that we must take real action.”
Some have questioned the authenticity of the brick and so Wang pulled back the curtain on the design. Quartz reports:
While Nut Brother’s work is getting a lot of attention in China, many wonder if the brick is really made of smog. “What can be collected to make a brick is by no means PM 2.5 [fine particulate matter that hangs in the air], but PM 250,” one Weibo user wrote (link in Chinese, registration required) under a news post about the project. “Performance art shouldn’t be a gimmick.”
Nut Brother told Quartz what he got at the end of the project was a mixture of “dust and smog” that weighed about 100 grams. Adding that to clay to make a brick that weighs “several kilograms” makes his brick not that different from ordinary ones, he admitted, but he said it is just meant to be a symbol. “I’m not doing any scientific research,” he said.
The criticism Quartz cited is all the proof you need that this problem won’t be fixed any time soon. Even in the midst of a thick layer of smog filling the sky like Doomsday, human beings will still take solace in petty pedantry. We’re so deep in denial as a people that we’re questioning the scientific credentials of a guy who goes by the name “Nut Brother.” We shouldn’t need a performance artist to draw our attention to the problem; the truth is as plain as the daylight we would otherwise be able to see. Wang’s brick may turn from “warning” to “indictment” sooner than we think. I’d love to own one as a troubling conversation piece.
Bill Rodgers is the Managing Editor of CFile.
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