A performance artist used a vacuum cleaner to suck up particles in super smoggy Beijing to make a brick of condensed pollution.
Beijing has been swamped for days in a beige-gray miasma of smog, bringing coughs and rasping, hospitals crowded from respiratory ailments, a midday sky so dim that it could pass for evening, and head-shaking disgust from residents who had hoped the city was over the worst of its chronic pollution.
But “Brother Nut,” a performance artist, has something solid to show from the acrid soup in the air: a brick of condensed pollution.
For 100 days, Brother Nut dragged a roaring, industrial-strength vacuum cleaner around the Chinese capital’s landmarks, sucking up dust from the atmosphere.
He has mixed the accumulated gray gunk with red clay to create a small but potent symbol of the city’s air problems.
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“Dust represents the side effects of humankind’s development, including smog and building-site dust,” he explained in an interview Tuesday. “When I first arrived in Beijing, I wore a hygienic mask for a few days, but later I stopped. In smog like this, there’s no escaping.”
Reports in the Chinese media about his “Project Dust” have coincided with the worst smog in more than a year across northern China, and Brother Nut — whose real name is Wang Renzheng — has catapulted to instant fame in this city, where people talk about ups and downs in PM2.5 air pollution with the same familiarity that the English reputedly discuss rainfall.
“Nearly everyone in Beijing would have a brick in their stomachs. Older people, maybe five,” said one of more than 4,000 often-rueful comments on an online photo gallery of Brother Nut’s project.
The wave of smog across northern China arrived shortly before the start on Monday of negotiations in Paris, where governments hope to settle on a new agreement to reduce the greenhouse-gas pollution causing global warming. Much of that smog originates from the same coal-fire boilers, vehicle exhausts and industrial plants that pump out carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.
But the new onslaught of smog has brought complaints from residents that local governments in Beijing and other cities were complacent and ill-prepared for the pollution buildup in static winter air. The capital issued an “orange alert” — the second-highest pollution warning — for the first time since February 2014.
bought a 6,800-renminbi ($1,060) vacuum cleaner with rechargeable batteries and started roaming the city with it in July.
Some onlookers failed to fathom his artistic purpose and mistook him for a high-tech street sweeper, he said.
“Some people thought, ‘Wow, Beijing’s really awesome,’ ” he said. “ ‘Now they’ve got air cleaners like this.’ They asked me how much money I made. Some thought I was selling vacuum cleaners.”