Image of a work in HeHe's new installation for the Manchester Science Festival, Cloud Crash. A green cloud hovers above the Tate Modern building

World premiere exhibition brings atmospheric science to life

Brightly coloured clouds, swirling oppressive fumes and landmarks under siege – the world premiere of a new exhibition asks, how would you feel if you could see the effect of our actions on the environment in vivid technicolour?

Environmental arts organisation Cape Farewell have commissioned internationally acclaimed Paris-based artists HeHe – Helen Evans and Heiko Hansen – to create Cloud Crash for their third Lovelock Art Commission. The work will be unveiled at Manchester Science Festival on October 20.

Antonio Benitez, Director of the Manchester Science Festival, said: “This exciting, newly-commissioned work tackles an important issue that affects us all. HeHe’s vision for Cloud Crash brings the reality of climate change to life in a way that really makes us consider that how we live our lives can damage the environment and have a drastic effect on the future of the planet. I am proud to be able to unveil this powerful, thoughtful work at the Manchester Science Festival.”

The annual Lovelock Commission takes inspiration from pioneering climate scientist James Lovelock’s Gaia Theory and this year has a special focus on recent atmospheric science supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

NERC’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Alison Robinson, said: “We are proud to sponsor this year’s Lovelock Commission, a prestigious collaboration with a history of successfully engaging new audiences with vital issues around climate change. These impressive pieces showcase environmental science in a new light, bringing the science we live and breathe to viewers in a compelling and innovative way.

“The starting point was NERC’s research in the area of atmospheric science, including air pollution, an issue affecting our everyday lives, and cloud formation, helping us to better understand the world’s changing climate. The artworks complement our ongoing public engagement activities in the Northwest at the Manchester Science Festival and our Into the Blue campaign.”

About the works

Inspired by the manipulation of emissions tests by major car manufacturers, Airbag features a crashed car which has its choking petrol fumes turned back on itself – filling the car’s interior rather than the air around it. A blinking faulty light illuminates the clouds, and the work invites the viewer to think about the daily environmental impacts of their commute and daily actions.

In Diamonds in the Sky, which can be found in the museum’s Air and Space Hall, a coloured cloud swarms, accelerating towards Beetham Tower. Manchester’s landmark skyscraper has come to symbolise the post-industrial reinvention of the city. In this installation, HeHe look to the future and expand on NERC’s air quality forecasts. These forecasts map measurements of ozone, nitrogen dioxide and small particulate dust in vivid saturated colour. In the projection, each particle per million is represented by a pixel and invisible matter in the sky becomes visible.

Next to the museum’s Power Hall is Burnout, a replica of Tate Modern which used to be the Bankside Power Station. The Bankside powered London from 1952 to 1981, consuming oil and blasting out clouds of pollution. It was designed as a ‘cathedral of power’, a term that emphasises prestige and modernity. As Tate Modern, it is often referred to as an ‘art powerhouse’. Energy production is used as a positive metaphor for art, sanitised and without reference to pollution. In Burnout, vapour clouds belch out of Bankside’s central chimney and pour onto the Tate’s glowing gallery spaces, as if the building is simultaneously an art museum and an active energy producer and this site of cultural industry is confronted with the carbon emissions of its past.