At the 2018 Amsterdam Light Festival, Breitner Academy students Liza Vos, Sem Wijker and Kari-Anne Souwer presented their installation Miasma Fields. This installation was the result of a collaboration with the Citizen Data Lab, and was made possible by Amsterdam Creative Industries Network (ACIN) and the Municipality of Amsterdam.

The title Miasma Fields refers to the ‘miasma theory’. This classical medical theory ascribes the cause of epidemics to pathogenic particles (miasms) in the air we breathe. In this artwork a specific type of a polluting, particle plays the lead: nitrogen dioxide, which is emitted by traffic and industry and heavily pollutes the air in a city like Amsterdam – and damages our airways.

How strong is the emission?
You know the situation: you are waiting for a traffic light on your bike, and in the meantime you are breathing in the exhaust fumes from cars with running engines next to you. But how strong are these emissions, which have such an impact on our lives, exactly? In Amsterdam, the emission of nitrogen dioxide is measured at ten different points (also near the Marineterrein), which shows that during the day there are dangerously strong peaks caused by rush hour and the weather.

Hypnotising patterns
Vos, Wijker and Souwer used the data from the ten measuring points, as provided by Maarten Groen at the Citizen Data Lab, and visualized them using ferrofluid. Innumerable magnetic nanoparticles (magnetite) float in this oily fluid, contained in a star shape. A magnet on the outside of each star shape – like an enlarged micro particle – attracts the magnetite and allows them to move through the oil, in hypnotic, organic patterns that become visible through reflective LED light. The effect is miraculous, but at the same time also threatening and disturbing: after all, you are looking at the highs and lows in the emission of toxic nitrogen dioxide, which also takes place close to you.

Miasma Fields is the result of a collaboration with students of the Breitner Academy and ArtechLAB Amsterdam (AHK), powered by Amsterdam Creative Industries Network (ACIN). ACIN researches the interaction between technology, science and art in society, business and education. Together with the Amsterdam Municipality they invited students to make an artwork for Amsterdam Light Festival that will remain part of the public space along the Knowledge Mile until 2020.