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Things To Know » Boysen Knoxout Project: EDSA - Change is in the Air

Boysen Knoxout Project: EDSA - Change is in the Air

by Jessica Zafra

We want to believe that art can change the world. Project: EDSA, Boysen KNOxOUT’s public art initiative, begins at the most basic level, by cleaning the air we breathe.

Boysen KNOxOUT Project: EDSA aims to lessen air pollution on Metro Manila’s main thoroughfare by using air-cleaning paint in large-scale art. Eight artworks covering about 1,000 square meters each will be painted on selected walls and MRT pylons on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue using the paint Boysen KNOxOUT, which transforms specific toxins in the atmosphere into harmless residue.

EDSA is one of the most polluted areas in the country, with average nitrogen oxide (NOx) levels 4 ½ times the safety limit set by the World Health Organization. Scientific tests have established that every square meter of surface painted with KNOxOUT eliminates the NOx and other toxins from the exhaust of 10 cars. This means that each 1,000-sq m artwork will neutralize the harmful emissions of 10,000 cars daily. The acronym in the Project: EDSA could stand for “Everyone Deserves Safe Air”.

The artists of Project: EDSA aren’t just expressing their concern for the environment– they are actively combating pollution.

The first Boysen KNOxOUT Project: EDSA artwork confronts the daily chaos of EDSA with a vision of the symmetry at the heart of all things. The Social Realist Jose Tence Ruiz has painted the San Lorenzo Village wall with arresting marine fractal forms inspired by the work of the naturalist Ernst Haeckel.

In conceptualizing the artwork Tence Ruiz had to answer a number of questions. “How do we make something that might catch attention on Edsa? How do we compete with the huge billboards and their straight-to-the-crotch approach? In the first place, who is our audience?”

The artist decided to address Metro Manila’s commuters, the people who ride the bus every day. They travel more slowly down the highway and have time to take in their surroundings.

Then there was the choice of subject. Lead curator Marian Pastor Roces, whose team conceptualized and supervises Boysen KNOxOUT Project: EDSA, was adamant about steering clear of the obvious: Please, no dolphins. “I already do work that is a little on the gruesome side,” Tence Ruiz notes. “EDSA commuters are already tired; I didn’t want to do something jarring. I was looking for something light and slightly whimsical, but with meaning.

“At the same time it had to be complex. We cannot compete with the seductions of photography unless we do something difficult and complicated.”

Tence Ruiz’s San Lorenzo wall was launched in May 2011, and today the 1,000 sq-m surface is almost complete. “I ended up doing something I’ve always been preoccupied with but never thought would apply to Project EDSA--fractals.

"It occurred to me as work on the wall progressed that times of stress on EDSA I close my eyes and remember my Boy Scout days on the beach in Matabungkay with the starfish, sea cucumbers, barnacles." We are an archipelago after all, never far from water.

Nestled among the strangely familiar images is a single word, "Ganap."

"It's a poetic word, bringing up the fullness of understanding, the completion of pregnancy, a finished cycle, wholeness," Tence Ruiz says. "I just wanted to throw it out there, so the man on the street might have an entry point for thinking of the piece." He is pleased at the way the general public has reacted to the artwork. "The bottled water vendor asked me if Ganap was a party list," he laughs. "And yes, it does sound like it. People ask me if those are aliens or sea monsters, and the work has been described as a tattoo."

The more cynical observer would assume a more extreme reaction to the San Lorenzo artwork, but the piece has not been vandalized. When Tence Ruiz's team was applying the first coat of paint, some street artists had left graffiti on the wall. Instead of warning them off, the artist left a note inviting them to join the team of painters. "If you want to put your mark, come and see me." The graffiti artists didn't take him up on his invitation, but they must have appreciated it because "Ganap" has remained untouched.

Of course the greater danger to the artwork is the pollution itself. Jose Tence Ruiz's painting on the San Lorenzo Village wall on EDSA remains vivid and soot-free ten months since it was presented to the public.

"KNOxOUT transforms any painted surface into an air purifier through photocatalysis. When the paint is exposed to light, it reacts with toxic air pollutants and converts them into harmless substances that can be washed away by rain," explains Johnson Ongking, vice-president of Boysen Paints, the sole sponsor of Project: EDSA. The public art initiative has received enthusiastic support from the Metro Manila Development Authority.

"As long as the paint is on the wall and it's exposed to light, it will continue to clean the air," Ongking says. "Using Boysen KNOxOUT on EDSA definitely improves the quality of the air we breathe, but it is not the cure-all. We need a holistic approach to addressing air pollution--fewer and cleaner vehicles on the road, better public transportation, more walking and biking."

Whenever we use motor transport, we contribute to the problem of air pollution. Boysen KNOxOUT gives us a means to become part of the solution. Change is in the air, and it begins with us.