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Beijing’s Smog Is So Bad That One Artist Is Turning It Into Bricks

In 100 days, an ordinary vacuum cleaner sucked up enough pollutants to make a building material.

Recent smog levels in Beijing hit 40 times the safe level, which must have been a horrifying experience for most residents. But the extra smog may have made life a little easier for Nut Brother, a Chinese artist who has collected Beijing smog and turned it into a brick.

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The air is the air, or so we assume, and even when it gets dirty we don’t worry too much. But Nut Brother’s project shows that the filth is in fact a real, solid mass that we’re sucking into our lungs.

Nut Brother, aka Wang Renzheng, is an artist/activist. He spent 100 days on the streets of Beijing with a vacuum cleaner, collecting enough pollutants to make his smog brick, which was baked on November 30, after being mixed with clay to hold it together.

Renzheng told Quartz that his haul amounted to three and a half ounces after 100 days. This may have been a surprise to the artist, because he left the vacuum cleaner sealed during his three-month project, refusing to look inside. “He did not know how much dust accumulated inside the machine, one is not willing to open it, because it will not change anything,” says Chinese site Weixin.

Nut Brother isn’t the first person to harvest smog as a raw manufacturing material. Last year Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde used static electricity to pull particles from the pollution and set the soot into gold jewelry, like a precious stone. And in New York, the Center for Genomic Gastronomy has harvested smog to turn it into an edible meringue dessert. And just last month MIT researcher Anirudh Sharma mixed soot with oil and rubbing alcohol to make printer ink, proving that pollution is at least useful for something other than choking our cities and our lungs.

If there are so many great things you can do with smog, the big question is: why are we leaving it in the air at all?

About the author

Previously found writing at Wired.com, Cult of Mac and Straight No filter.

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