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“Air Has No Borders” Brings Community Together Over Shared Experiences with Wildfire Smoke

During the month of August, a light in Kolva-Sullivan Gallery shone green, yellow, orange or red to indicate the hourly air quality in Spokane County. As each day concluded, a colored dot was added to a windowpane to depict the day’s overall air quality. Soon, 31 dots represented August’s air.

“Air Has No Borders” was an installation created by Nicole Chochrek. She came to Spokane through Laboratory Art + Residency – a program that supports artists by providing time and space to create interactive works across the city.

As an interdisciplinary artist, Chochrek uses visual and performative frameworks to explore contemporary issues and environmental disparities. In this case, she looked closely at how wildfire smoke impacts Spokane and its community.

Chochrek is no stranger to poor air quality. Originally from Denton, Texas, an area where air pollution has impacted the region for many years, Chochrek pulled from her personal experiences when creating the installation and tracing wildfire smoke impacts back to Spokane.

She became inspired to create the installation while studying Medial Geography. “I was invested in understanding the impact our environment has on our health, more importantly, how the pollutants we can’t see affect us,” she said. “A reoccurring question that arises; what are the long-term implications and how can we improve the health and safety of our communities?”

Throughout the installation, the community was invited to share their stories of how they’ve been impacted by fire season. While this year Spokane didn’t see large impacts from wildfire smoke, the past few years were still at the top of mind.

“I was able to talk to people in the community who had lost their homes or been evacuated, people who had to leave town because they don’t have AC and keeping the windows open is not an option,” Chochrek said. “I heard from people who changed how they commuted to work, to people who wrote songs about poor air quality.”

As the installation concluded and stories had been shared, Chochrek became increasingly aware that everyone is impacted by the air we breathe.

More about Nicole Chochrek:

Chochrek received a BA in Geography: Environmental Science and continued Graduate studies in Sculpture at the University of North Texas. Her work is based on the accessibility and digestibility of information, deep listening, shared responsibilities, and the construction of new ways of being together.

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