After exploring several different workshops and public engagement formats, I have identified this optimal approach to carry forward. Atmosphere Mapping is an ideation workshop which aims to develop alternative processes for engaging with fluctuations in our airy environs over space and time. The half-day session comprises three parts: a lecture, prototyping, and a presentation/discussion.
The lecture provides a critical understanding of atmosphere. The latter is of course meteorological, constantly fluctuating with material flows influenced by human activity indistinguishable from the weather patterns of a changing climate. It is also aesthetic and emotionally-charged. As our medium for living, atmosphere is an opportunity for engineering cleanliness and protection as well as socioeconomic inequity and uninhabitable spacetimes.
In the lecture, I showcase existing techniques for sensing and recording atmosphere, where sciences and arts intermingle. An example from my own practice of mapping atmosphere is biomonitoring with lichens. I emphasise that cartography is about making choices of what to represent and how; it is, therefore, a ‘world-making’ project of political significance.
After the lecture, participants have a set amount of time, usually 90 minutes, to ideate and prototype their own process of mapping an aspect of the atmosphere they inhabit which is significant to them. So far, I have completed the workshop with MA Sustainable Design students at Brighton University and with fellow MRes Communication Design students.
Beyond art and design courses, I can envisage adapted versions of the workshop taking place in shared spaces such as offices, schools, and neighbourhoods. The main benefit of the Atmosphere Mapping, in terms of participant experience and research value, is the opportunity and creative means to articulate ambient conditions which are otherwise taken for granted, despite negative effects on wellbeing. A straightforward example is noise pollution, but there are countless others.
Participants at Brighton University worked in groups to present ways of sensing and recording noise pollution’s effect on stress levels (there was a building site nearby). They also established a ‘creative climate’ index based on criteria for optimum studio conditions. At the RCA, participants worked individually and came up with more introspective methods, such as simultaneously filming the sky and a shadow to show the correlation in a rather poetic way (see video above).
After both workshops a sense of calm was remarked upon. The atmosphere reminded me of teaching yoga, when practitioners experience an afterglow following sustained conscious breathing.