Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Yellow Dust

Yellow Dust

Making environmental issues visible and prompting public action

How can we inspire everyday people to act on the climate emergency? Dr Nerea Calvillo’s practice-based research has increased public awareness and cultural understanding of pollution around the world. From city managers to artists and architects, new and creative ways are being found to bring the climate emergency home.

The challenge

Solving the environmental crisis is one of humanity’s most pressing tasks. Yet most people remain passive. New ways of engaging citizens and explore alternatives are necessary. Equally, city designers and civic managers would benefit from new insights into how pollution will affect urban living.

Our approach

Dr Calvillo’s research found that official air quality data, published online or on digital screens, has very little impact in how people see and react to polluted air. As a result, Dr Calvillo created a number of public art installations that could bring the reality of pollution home to non-academic audiences:

  • ‘Yellow Dust’, a temporary installation, funded by the ESRC, to visualise air pollution in specific places and points in time. This features coloured water vapour mist varying in intensity depending on the levels of pollution measured.

  • ‘The Descents’, a temporary installation to visualise citizen’s relationship with water in a specific neighbourhood.

  • ‘In the Air’, a visualisation commissioned by the Royal Academy of Arts.

Our impact

Dr Calvillo’s installations have received acclaim for raising awareness and changing visitor attitudes about air pollution. More than 460,000 people visited ‘Yellow Dust’ at the Seoul Biennale in two months. This led to attendees taking action to improve the environment, from using public transport, eating less meat and moving to sustainable materials.

Interviews in Spanish newspapers and on Korean radio allowed Dr Calvillo to share her findings even further, and in 2017 the New York Times Style Magazine selected her as one of the year’s leading influencers in design, architecture and lifestyle. Workshops have spread this research to students in Mexico City, Coventry and London. Recently, two of Dr Calvillo’s visualisations were displayed at the Royal Academy of Arts in London as part of the Eco-Visionaries exhibition, accompanied by a panel on Air Pollution in Cities chaired by Dr Calvillo.

City managers in Seoul, Madrid and Barcelona have challenged the ways in which they communicate air pollution levels to local people through Dr Calvillo’s research. This has contributed to architects rethinking how spatial design can adapt to benefit the environment. By including cutting edge data visualisations, new interventions in public spaces can encourage citizens to act more responsibly.

Dr Calvillo has shed a light on the neglected issues of air quality in our cities, prompting official and public action by making the invisible, visible.

Discover more about Dr Calvillo's projects and publications

What is research impact?

Discover why it matters

More impact stories

Explore other work from the Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies at Warwick