An Artist Just Made A Brick Out Of Beijing's Smog

You've probably seen the pictures of monuments in Beijing hidden in a smoky haze and the city's inhabitants walking around with masks covering their faces.

If that doesn't demonstrate the severity of China's environmental issues, maybe this will: A Beijing artist just built a brick of out the city's smog.

A 34-year-old performance artist who calls himself Brother Nut reportedly spent four hours every day walking the city's streets with a 1,000-watt industrial vacuum cleaner. Using its nozzle, Brother Nut was able to collect dust from the air, though he was often mistaken for a "cleaner" or "air monitoring person."

After 100 days of sucking smog out of the city's sky, he mixed the gray clump of dust he collected together with red clay. The end result was a brick.

“Dust represents the side effects of humankind’s development, including smog and building-site dust,” he said in an interview on Tuesday, according to The New York Times. “When I first arrived in Beijing, I wore a hygienic mask for a few days, but later I stopped. In smog like this, there’s no escaping.”

The project is extremely timely. On Tuesday, an “orange alert” in Beijing closed down city schools, according to the BBC. The alert was spurred by the highest reading of hazardous levels of air pollution in 13 months. Halfway around the world, China's president, Xi Jinping, joined other world leaders at the United Nations’ COP21 climate conference in Paris before heading to Zimbabwe for a state visit.

Both The Washington Post and The New York Times led their print editions Tuesday with stories about China's growing environmental problems. A study earlier this year noted that an estimated 4,000 people die in China each day as a result of air pollution.

Though his brick of smog is turning heads, Brother Nut isn’t confident that it will change hearts or policy. “What I’ve done is like Sisyphus rolling his giant stone,” he told reporters. “There’s no use, but it can make more people think about this issue. It’s a spiritual thing.”

The project also attracted criticism on his Weibo account, according to Mashable. Users say he’s exaggerated the amount of dirt collected. On the other side of the spectrum, Brother Nut said he's received offers to sell the brick — for up to 10,000 renminbi (that's roughly $1,563). But he has no plans to sell. Instead, he says he will anonymously place the brick on a building site.

"This brick will then disappear as if it had been dropped into the ocean,” he said. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

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