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Chinese artist uses 'vacuum cleaner' to turn smog into brick

Artist turns pollution into art
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    Artist turns pollution into art

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Story highlights

  • Chinese artist turns pollutants sucked from air into brick
  • He was offered $1,600 for the brick but declined to sell it

Beijing (CNN)A Chinese performance artist's latest project has gone viral on social media, after he transformed the air pollution that regularly shrouds Beijing into a brick.

The artist calls himself Brother Nut, and he says he spent 100 days this year walking around the Chinese capital with a large, industrial-sized vacuum trailing behind him. He declined to give CNN his real name.
    With the wand held high, he vacuumed the air, sucking up the dust and microscopic particles that make up air pollution.
    He did it to make a point about China's air quality.
    "Some people think it's ridiculous to vacuum dust in the air," he says.
    "Air pollution is a problem faced by everybody. It is our right to breathe in fresh air, and right now, we're being deprived of that right."
    Beijing issued its first-ever red smog alert Monday, shutting schools, construction sites and restricting the number of cars on the road.
    Last week, air quality readings issued by the U.S. Embassy, which measures hazardous PM2.5 pollutants, went above 500, classed as "beyond index."

    Particles

    Brother Nut's machine collected over 100 grams of pollutants, much of it made up of small particles some 30 times smaller than a strand of human hair.
    He then took the dust, mixed it with clay in a mold, and turned it into an average looking brick.
    The art project went viral, to the point that he now gets stopped on the street by pedestrians wanting to take photos.
    However, he's not the first artist to tout a vacuum cleaner as a possible way to clean up the city's skies.
    In 2013, a Dutch artist and designer Daan Roosegaarde came up with an electro-magnetic device that would pull airborne smog particles to the ground, creating columns of fresh air.
    China's Brother Nut is ready to start his project by the street.

    Toxic toll

    The pollutants sucked out of the air by Brother Nut shortly before they are turned into a brick.
    Air pollution can be made of everything from soot to heavy metals like arsenic and lead.
    Tristan Evely, the North Asia medical director for International SOS, a medical and travel security assistance company says the particles sucked up by Brother Nut's vacuum cleaner affect not just the lungs, but also the heart.
    Prolonged exposure to those kinds of toxins can lead to everything from chronic lung diseases to heart disease.
    "(They) can go right inside our lungs, right into the blood stream," said Evely said
    It's those kinds of health consequences that helped prompt Brother Nut's art project.
    He told CNN someone had offered him $1,600 to buy his brick but he says it's not for sale.
    The goal was not about making a profit, he says, but about raising awareness by turning pollution into something tangible that you can hold in the palm of your hand.