It seems almost impossible: ink and paint made from recycled air pollution. In fact, it’s a reality known as Air-Ink, invented by Anirudh Sharma, the co-founder of innovation hub Graviky Labs. Their technology processes up to 95% of air captured from vehicles into safe-to-use ink and paint. To date, they’ve cleaned 1.6 trillion liters of air and produced 203 US gallons of Air-Ink. And thanks to Asian premium lager Tiger Beer, the service and its output are about to get even more attention. Back in 2016, Tiger Beer launched an Air-Ink awareness initiative in Hong Kong, where they employed a team of emerging artists to create public work with the material. This program has now extended globally and today in NYC, the brand has unveiled phase one of their work with street artist Buff Monster. At the northeast corner of 28th and Seventh in Manhattan, a Buff Monster Air-Ink mural is visible for all to see. On 21 April, a “Clean Art Gallery” will open at Senaspace in SoHo, displaying even more Buff Monster Air-Ink work. With so many important moving parts, we spoke to Sharma, Buff Monster and Chas Littefield from Tiger Beer parent company Heineken on what came together to make this a possibility.
“The invention of Air-Ink came out of a sustained desire to change a prevailing situation,” Sharma explains to CH. “My years growing up in India and experiencing the effects of air pollution first-hand set me thinking, ‘How could I make the best of existing conditions?'” After surveying unconventional uses for air pollution, he thought of a safe ink option. “After initial research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, my team and I spent a lot of time perfecting the technology and our ink at Graviky,” he continues. They demonstrated a proof of concept in 2013 and are still working to make it even more efficient. The program with Tiger Beer, in addition to increasing awareness, is allowing them to “conduct pilot trials in markets outside of India for the first time.” As for next steps, he says that they hope to “collaborate with a city or municipality to conduct their own pilot program together with us in the near future.”
For street art fans and those in NYC, Buff Monster has become a household name. His often vibrant large-scale work features curious characters, some of which appear to be or are melting. “I work with bright colors in a variety of mediums,” he explains to CH, “But probably my favorite is simply black ink on white paper, so the direction of this project is right up my alley.” Right now, Air-Ink exists only in black. Buff Monster was given what he calls a “brief brief” that allowed him tremendous flexibility. From there, he considers each format and surface, taking into account obstacles. “I came up with a ton of ideas around the theme of NYC and transformation,” he says.
“The ink itself isn’t what I’m used to traditionally, but I really didn’t have to make any major modifications” regarding process, he continues. And none of his signature style has been altered. The completed work even features a melting heap. Buff Monster strikes upon the important producing works by hand: “In this day and age of cutting-edge digital imagery, I still really like the basics. By that I mean, analog art production. We live in a physical world, and I think there is still much to be said for mastering physical materials.”
As for the final piece of the puzzle, there’s a reason why a beer brand would want to step out to the plate on this one. According to Chas Littlefield, “We think it’s important for Americans, New Yorkers and really the world to see the change taking place as a result of creativity. What’s particularly relevant here is that in addition to highlighting the beauty that can be created when science and art come together, we’re celebrating the vibrancy of New York City which includes all the things—large and small—that we love about this city.” London, Berlin, and Singapore are also unveiling works by specific artists—and the whole campaign is aimed at transforming pollution into beauty. Littlefield concludes, “We believe it’s our responsibility, as a global brand, to provide a platform for issues that affect us all. We are committed to people like Ani [Sharm] and others who have great ideas that amplify positive solutions for the world.” Right now, the result is insight into an important technology and a bit of fun art.
“Clean Art Gallery” will run from 21 April through 1 May at Senaspace, 229 Centre St, New York.
Images courtesy of Tiger Beer