Seeing Toxic Airs was a 6-day workshop that encourages students to sense, smell and map atmospheric particulates, from their earthly beginnings, to the places in which they return back to earth. We visited clouds of cement industries and pineapple conglomerates, mapping how power moved from company, to air to ecology.
In San Jose, concrete building rules. Sometimes referred to as the “Cementazo”, the cement industry in Costa Rica is embroiled with corruption, whilst creating a monopoly not only on cement supply but on the form of architecture that is built within the country. Cement is a building material that devours mountains, ecologies, and atmospheres. And yet, many say it is very difficult to build with anything but concrete in Costa Rica, with standards favouring long-lasting cement above all other. This image of permanence and certainty is utilised within the austere parliament building and the many political infrastructure campaigns across Costa Rica. Holcim—one of the worlds largest suppliers of concrete—systematically fills Agama Caliente with clouds of cement, that erode nearby buildings and roofs, fill lungs and cover trees. Whilst the factory’s cement smogs are said to be contained, every morning new cement dust clouds appear from the factory before sunrise, released in secret, whilst those watching from the surrounding town sleep. The surrounding plants, town and people are becoming concrete, with cases of silicosis and asthma very common as cement solidifies in lungs, whilst metal roofs erode away in the caustic air, and trees and plants form a new thick skin of growth-slowing cement. On the public road entering Holcim, ants even choose to build their nests with cement dust.