Sculptor: Exhibition breathes new life into pollution protest

Friday, 8th April — By Anna Lamche

Jo Pearl

Sculptor Jo Pearl

HOW does it feel when pollution leaves you gasping for breath? This is the unsettling question an Archway artist will be exploring in her new exhibition this weekend.

Sculptor Jo Pearl is exhibiting a series of her sculptures – entitled Gasping for Air – at the upcoming Ceramic Art London festival starting this Friday.

“I’ve always tried to highlight invisible problems through my work. The way I’ve approached [this exhibition] is by exploring the panic one feels when one can’t breathe,” Ms Pearl said.

Her work, which will be exhibited in the main foyer of Central Saint Martins college, forms part of On Air, a satellite exhibition devoted to “the invisible problem of air pollution,” Ms Pearl said.

“Ceramic Art London felt it was an important theme – they wanted it to be specifically about air pollution,” she added. “It is incredibly important, the greatest environmental threat to public health in the UK. In London, one in 10 children is being treated for asthma.”

Ms Pearl, who is withholding her council tax in protest at the expansion of the Edmonton incinerator, said: “I think art has a way of communicating that can open up people’s awareness of things in a different way to public protest, with a banner or council tax strike.

“Art has this amazing ability to change the conversation. Both forms of protest are valid – for me, air pollution and the climate crisis are so urgent that I feel I need to do it all.”

At the exhibition, Ms Pearl will be exhibiting a stop-frame animation, a bust, and pieces of more abstract sculpture. “I have made a stop-frame animation about what it looks and feels like to struggle for breath in air pollution – abstract stuff that suggests what your feeling might look like if you had a restricted bronchi,” she said.

Of the bust, she said: “It’s about how terrifying it is when you can’t breathe properly, how quickly you go into high alarm.”

Ms Pearl has said the medium of sculpture is well suited to exploring air pollution. “As artists, we are trying to make this problem visible and tangible,” she said. “It’s really tricky to get people to focus on it because it’s invisible.

“As soon as you can’t smell it, you forget about it. And it doesn’t just cause asthma, it is also behind dementia and stillbirths. There are no safe levels of air pollution: it’s the equivalent of smoking.”

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