This Wearable Plant Cleans The Air For You When Pollution Is Bad

Art echoes life for a designer whose “Survival Kit for the Ever-Changing Planet”–photographed on a polluted day in China–sends a poignant message about environmental degradation and resilience.

It’s a simple and poignant concept: A tiny plant in a transparent backpack as the sole source of sustenance in a bombed-out world. Chiu Chih’s “Survival Kit for the Ever-Changing Planet” bounced around the design web on the strength of these images, with only glimmers of information about their provenance. But the artist’s backstory make it all the more interesting.


The project was ostensibly a school project for Wuhan University, where Chih studied industrial design. “My project wasn’t what my teachers expected,” he says. His stubborn insistence on his vision was, he says, something he learned as an intern at Qiao Design. “When I finished the work, my teachers changed their mind.”

The work was inspired by Chih’s own life. He was born in Taiwan and is currently a soldier in the Taiwanese army, but at nine years old moved to mainland China. “Life was hard for a kid, everything I used to use, to eat, to play with were not available,” he says. “For me, TV programs, foods, toys from Taiwan and my family education are just like the planet in the backpack, supporting me to live.”

Chiu designed the backpack and had it manufactured for 800 RMB (or about $132), saying it’s easy “to manufacture things in this largest world factory.” It was used only for these photographs, taken in Wuhan, where classmates posed as models. None of the landscape was altered. “Air was bad, traffic was bad,” Chih says. “It’s highly polluted.”

While he says the project was “absolutely” inspired by the air pollution problem in China, he also says he doesn’t want its message to only be about the environment. Instead, it’s about the same adaptability that caused him to leave his hometown, the qualities of resilience that it takes to survive now and in the future.

“Like warriors bring their family’s photo with them in the war, like spacemen carry air from the Earth to go explore other planets,” he says. “Leave the comfortable home, go further, explore the exciting world. Human won’t just stay on Earth in next 5,000 years.”

About the author

Stan Alcorn is a print, radio and video journalist, regularly reporting for WNYC and NPR. He grew up in New Mexico.