Installing lungs

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jpeg

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February 3, 2020 - 5:42am

Critical Commentary

In 2018, a "giant pair of lungs" was installed in front of the busy Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in north Delhi. Installed in early winter just before the Hindu festival of Diwali when people would burst banned firecrackers, the lungs are actually huge HEPA filters which are supposed to turn progressively darker one day after another by filtering out particulate matter. And they did, as this time-lapse video shows. By November 8, one day after Diwali, the lungs had turned completely black. This installation was created by Lung Care Foundation, an NGO headed by a prominent respiratory surgeon who lives in Delhi. Two decades before, similar images had circulated when another prominent surgeon contrasted the black lung of a Delhi resident he had operated on with the pink lung of someone who lives in a mountainous area. This installation, though, by using HEPA filters, recenters the materiality of PM2.5 in its connection with the lung. The attachment to Delhi still remains but the attention has shited elsewhere. Emma Garnett writes about the "elemental ambiguity of PM2.5" (2018), the difficulty of grappling with toxicity that is not molecular and that configures scientific research in new ways, demanding new links to be made, new boundaries to be drawn between body/not-body, human/nonhuman, indoor/outdoor. Since the installation locates air within the lungs, it also centers the individual human body as the site for intervention. How does this shape environmental activism and justice?

Though many images of this installation/experiment are available online, I chose this image because of two reasons: it is taken from a right-wing media outlet, and it frames the lungs in relation to a colonial-era war monument engulfed by seasonal smog and bounded by police barricades. The monument India Gate in the background was built in 1921 to honor British Indian Army soldiers who died defending British imperial centers across the world in the First World War. It is significant that the media outlet chose this framing. What toxic histories and legacies does this framing draw attention to and why?

Cite as

Republic TV's Digital Desk, "Installing lungs", contributed by Prerna Srigyan, Center for Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 3 February 2020, accessed 23 October 2021.