Seeing Is Believing: Air Pollution Through the Eyes of the Artists

The time has come to take another look at the old Chinese saying:
百闻不如一见, ( one look is worth a thousand words),dating back about two thousand years. Or, perhaps, we can examine the Russian proverb, Лу́чше оди́н раз уви́деть, чем сто раз услы́шать, (It's better to see once than hear a hundred times) , or several English equivalents of both: "Seeing is believing", "One look is worth a thousand words", or 'One eyewitness is better than two hear-says'.

Neuro-psychologists seem to agree with the traditional wisdom of these proverbs. The comparison of verbal and pictorial emotional stimuli often reveals a processing advantage of emotional pictures in terms of larger or more pronounced emotion effects evoked by pictorial stimuli.

And our relatively recent obsession with casually taken self portraits ( selfies) is our vote of confidence in the power of image. We are desperate to be heard, seen and noticed as individuals and as groups, pursuing various causes.

It is not an easy task considering the onslaught of information and images we are subjected to in a daily basis. Our minds are anesthetized very much like the bodies of over stimulated lovers. Our responses to the information we receive seem to come in spasms, "campaigns," that may be intense and sincere, but have no longevity most of the time.

And yet our involvement and lasting awareness of global and local happenings is more needed than ever. It is particularly urgent when we speak about our habitat, the environment, nature. We are all exposed to the elements, we are all subjected to the effects of our treatment of the environment, we all breathe the air, drink the water, eat the food. We cannot imagine not to. We also cannot or would not imagine what we breath, eat or drink. However, it may be necessary to engage our imagination in order to go beyond the sense of urgency and panic created by facts, and to reflect. But how do you imagine something that is not readily visible, like air, polluted and not?

Art traditionally carried a task to help us to imagine the unimaginable. To paraphrase Robert Hughes statement about Goya's The Third of May, the artists make us remember what they themselves have not seen.

Washington based artist Sheila Crider and Swiss artist Francois Ilnseher attempt to do just that in their recent works. Crider has created a mixed media installation called The Toxic Air We Unknowingly Breathe, This series of 22 collages was created with hand made, re-made and recycled paper, acrylic paint and cotton thread. Crider writes: "Art can make us aware of the very real dangers obscured by mass media imagery. I want The Toxic Air... to be the kind of environmental piece that breaks through the conditioning" .

Francois Ilnseher took a group of photographs of air, titled Inhale!. The blue and grey hues at first may look like blocks of color (?), but the images draw you in and demand more time and attention to be spent to uncover the depth of each image, precisely the type of attention and involvement that the air around us demands.

At the time when the mass media seem to fail to deliver the effective message, art may have a chance, or rather should be given a chance, to reclaim it's position as the influencer of public opinions and actions.

Mixed media installation The Toxic Air We Unknowingly Breathe by Sheila Crider and Inhale! photographs by Francois Ilnseher can be seen at Proto Gallery, 66 Willow Avenue, Hoboken , NJ from June 11TH, 2016 through July 10, 2016. Together with mixed media works by Sanda Iliescu, they are part of Menage, an exhibition that reflects on the state of our domestic relations with the environment.

For more information about the artists and Menage exhibition go to and

Molly Merson is an independent curator and director at Gallery Molly Krom


Sheila Crider, The Toxic Air We Unknowingly Breathe( detail), mixed media installation, 2016

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