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BOYSEN KNOxOUT PROJECT: EDSA Purifying the Air with Art

February 24 2012 -

There are 14 million stories in Metro Manila and at some point they will all traverse Epifanio de los Santos Avenue. EDSA, the pulsing 24-km artery of the city, was the site of two People Power events in the last quarter-century; on a humbler note it is the locus of the daily struggles of the citizens traveling in 2 million vehicles.

Not surprisingly, EDSA is one of the most polluted thoroughfares in the country. We all breathe this polluted air—we don’t have much choice—and we try not to think of the consequences to our health.

The statistics are frightening: 5,000 deaths due to air pollution every year and 1 out of 8 premature deaths, the life expectancy of citizens reduced by almost 9 months, Php 6.7 Billion in health costs, not to mention the increased incidence of asthma, cancer and other lung diseases.

One of the most noxious air pollutants is nitrogen oxide (NOx), which is produced by vehicle emissions. NOx reacts with volatile organic compounds to form smog, and it forms small particles that can penetrate the lungs and cause health problems. Every vehicle with an engine produces NOx. Data collected on EDSA showed that the average daily level of NOx in the area was over 4 and a half times the safe limit set by the World Health Organization. As long as there are cars on the road there will be NOx in the air.

What can we do to combat air pollution? A new paint technology offers an answer. BOYSEN®, a leading Filipino paint manufacturer, and Cristal Global, the England-based titanium dioxide producer, have produced KNOxOUT™, the first air-cleaning paint in the world. KNOxOUT™’s CristalActiv technology uses light to break down nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds into harmless substances that are washed away when it rains.

In the world’s largest air-cleaning paint trial, KNOxOUT™ was tested on the EDSA Guadalupe MRT station. Scientists determined that the KNOxOUT™ paint on the station walls and surrounding embankments neutralized the NOx emissions of more than 30,000 cars per day. In effect the EDSA Guadalupe station is the largest air purifier in the world. The air-cleaning effect of the KNOxOUT™ will continue as long as the paint stays on the surface and is exposed to light and humidity.

Now BOYSEN® is working with curators, artists, traffic enforcers and the administrators of the Metro Manila Development Authority to create 8 immense air purifiers on EDSA. The initiative is called BOYSEN® KNOxOUT™ Project: EDSA, and this time the acronym means “Everyone Deserves Safe Air”.


Art VS. Pollution

BOYSEN® KNOxOUT™ Project: EDSA is the first large-scale public art project in the world using paint that can purify the air. Marian Pastor Roces and her associates Adrian Jones and Judy Freya Sibayan are the curators. Eleven artists will produce a total of 8,000 square meters of artwork using KNOxOUT™ in 8 locations along EDSA. Their “canvases” are the walls, pylons, MRT stations and overpasses on the highway.

These artworks could potentially clean the NOx emissions of 80,000 compact cars traveling the whole 24 kilometers of EDSA everyday. This may not seem like much when you consider the 2 million vehicles spewing exhausts on the highway daily, but BOYSEN® sees it as a call to the citizenry to actively fight air pollution.

“Everyone who uses a motor vehicle is part of the air pollution problem, and KNOxOUT™ makes it possible for all of us to now be part of the solution,” says Johnson Ongking, Vice President of BOYSEN® Paints. “We all breathe the same air, and it’s our common responsibility to make sure it stops being harmful to us.”

“KNOxOUT™ is an empowering technology—it gives everyone the power to transform ordinary walls into air filters and actively fight air pollution. The artists for Project EDSA are creating some of the most beautiful air filters in the world, but everyone can easily paint their own air purifier and do their share for cleaner air.”

With  KNOxOUT™ at the core of the project, the participating artists could move beyond merely illustrating environmentalism to becoming the solution to a pressing environmental problem.


Asuncion and Damien Anne and the Mathematics of People Power

When the graphic design partnership of Asuncion Imperial and Damien Anne (B+C) was commissioned to create a large-scale artwork on the corner of EDSA and Ortigas Avenue the choice of subject was simple enough. Not many highway intersections can claim to be the site of a mass uprising that topples an overstaying authoritarian regime. The question was how to approach the historical event of February 1986 without resorting to a traditional figurative image representing a single perspective.

The space for this Project EDSA artwork—the pylons and parapets of the Metro Rail Transit—also posed its own challenges. Associate curators Jones and Sibayan encouraged B+C to view the discontinuous spaces as if they were designing a theatrical set.

It was the Annes’ young daughter who gave them the idea for their EDSA/Ortigas piece. She had been drawing symmetrical reversals—the geometry appealed to them visually and conceptually. “EDSA is all about reversals,” the Annes say. “From authoritarian rule to democratic space. From a cowed to an emancipated middle class. From despair to a sense of possibility, even if EDSA continues to challenge planners.”

The graphic artists decided to address the subject from a mathematical perspective. The People Power event of 1986 took exactly 4,400 minutes. B+C “mapped” this event as 4,400 squares measuring one square meter each.

To the motorist negotiating the hurly-burly of EDSA on a working day, the artwork may appear to be a lot of fiesta “banderitas”. To the street vendors taking shelter under the flyover, the work may seem a colorful backdrop for their death-defying games of tag with passing cars and buses. It’s the pedestrian crossing the intersection at a less hectic pace who realizes that the painting of bisected and quartered squares represents the EDSA 1 People Power revolt.

We have long heard of the purifying power of art, but with BOYSEN® KNOxOUT™ Project: EDSA, we’re experiencing it literally. It may not be as dramatic as a revolution against a corrupt president, but it could be the beginning of a new kind of People Power: the battle against air pollution. As our recent history reminds us, EDSA is the place to start. 
- Jessica Zafra, Courtesy of The Philippine Star