Affective encounters with pollution data: growing augmented reality trees
(Stamps School of Art & Design, University of Michigan)
Paper short abstract:
We discuss Pocket Penjing, an App developed through participatory design with 60+ people. Live Air Quality Data (AQD) is used to grow bonsai trees grows displayed growing in real-time 3D using augmented reality. More-than-human assemblages co-produce affective encounters with pollution data.
Paper long abstract:
We discuss the interdisciplinary project, Pocket Penjing, an App co-designed through a participatory design method that depends on researchers actively listening to participants (potential app users) and working with them as collaborators and co-designers. In Pocket Penjing, live Air Quality Data (AQD) is scraped from air monitoring stations around the world and a bonsai, or Chinese penjing, tree grows depending on that data. The tree is displayed growing in real-time 3D using augmented reality. The way the tree grows depends on more-than-human assemblages of AQD, human users, algorithms, and the local environment where the AR is displayed. The artificial life of each tree is shaped by these more-than-human assemblages as, for example, people intervene to reduce the impact of pollution, add water or prune their tree. Drawing on research into the perception of pollution, we argue that visualizing AQD, showing the problem of pollution is a necessary step, before any problem-solving is likely to take place. By visualizing AQD using AR to create polyaesthetic experiences (Bolter), Pocket Penjing does not seek to make the problem of pollution disappear through acts of solutionism (Morozov 2013) but, by contrast, rather to make pollution appear, to make imperceptible pollution visible in order to 'stay with the trouble'. The project depends on the annual rhythms and stoppages of air-borne particulates and humans and their shifting technologies and environments to co-produce affective encounters with pollution data that defy the techno utopianism of big data.