Tiger Beer brings art made from pollution-derived ink to smog-filled cities around the world

Artist Buff Monster painted a mural in New York using Air-Ink.

After a 2016 pilot in Hong Kong, premium lager Tiger Beer is bringing art derived from Air-Ink, the ink created from air pollution, to venues around the world.

According to a release, the tour will start in London and continue to Berlin, New York and Singapore. Along the way, resident artists in each city, including Buff Monster, KristopherH, Patrick Vale, Paul Davis and Die Dixons, will use Air-Ink to create artwork symbolizing “a bright future for our cities’ streets and inspiring others to take action,” the release said.

The ink that is being used in the 2017 campaign was harvested mainly from vehicles and chimneys from the pilot in Hong Kong, as well as in India and several test trucks that are part of the London activation, said Chas Littlefield, general manager of the Five Points Trading Company, which imports Tiger Beer.

According to Anirudh Sharma, inventor of Air-Ink and co-founder of Graviky Labs, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) spinoff that says it builds high-impact technologies, the process of creating Air-Ink begins by retrofitting a proprietary device onto the exhaust pipes of cars.

“When the vehicle is in use, our device arrests soot that is discharged from the exhaust pipes,” he said. “Once the device is full, the raw soot is transported back to our laboratory where it is put through a purification process that removes heavy metals and other unwanted materials. The purified soot is then blended with a variety of solvents to turn it into ink.”

Per Littlefield, more than 203 gallons (770 liters) of Air-Ink have been harvested to date, which is equivalent to CO2 emissions from driving a diesel vehicle for 2.3 years without a break, which is in part what inspired the project extension. In addition, he said Tiger Beer chose the cities it did because it felt the need to focus on places where the technology was needed.

“If you look at the news over the last few years, London, Berlin, Singapore and New York are all cities that are increasingly dealing with more air pollution,” Littlefield said. “Air pollution isn’t just a problem in emerging markets…it’s a struggle for these Western cities, particularly as they try to balance economic growth with increasingly congested city centers.”

The murals will be up from about mid- to late April, Littlefield added.

Tiger Beer said New York consumers will see Air-Ink art throughout Manhattan. Artist Buff Monster’s work in particular can be seen in a mural that will be displayed in Chelsea on 28th Street and 7th Avenue. Consumers will also be able to see this artist’s work in a Clean Art Gallery that will open on April 21 at the Senaspace Gallery in Soho. Consumers will be able to visit this gallery free of charge until its closes on May 1.

New York-based Buff Monster said the project has been less about Tiger Beer and more about Air-Ink and how the beer brand is supporting people like Sharma.

“I approached this by coming up with a lot of ideas around the theme of NYC and transformation,” he said. “Working with black ink on a white surface is one of my favorite ways of working, so this project is a really good fit for me. The story here is one that transitions from negative to positive and you’ll see that I’ll be having some fun with my characters here and what they symbolize.”

Tiger Beer said the project is part of its ongoing support of those whose unconventional ideas make a positive change in their communities and it extends the brand’s position that the best ideas are often born on the streets instead of corporate boardrooms.

“Tiger Beer was born on the streets of Singapore and has expanded to the streets of the world…we believe in empowering creativity from the streets, for the streets, and we think we’re doing so with purpose,” Littlefield said. “It’s our responsibility as a global brand to provide a platform for issues that affect us all.”

Sharma said growing up in India and experiencing the effects of air pollution firsthand motivated him to think of ways to turn pollution into something useful.

“After initial research at [MIT], we spent a lot of time perfecting the technology and our ink at [Graviky Labs]. Now, seeing artworks created with Air-Ink and displayed in major cities of the world is truly an exciting step for me and my team,” Sharma said. “A beautiful fusion between technology, science and art, this collaborative initiative with Tiger has taken our technology further than I could have imagined.”

In addition to the collaboration with Tiger Beer, Sharma said Air-Ink has created markers and screen-printing ink to date.

“As our partner, Tiger Beer has helped cast a global spotlight on Air-Ink through this creative collaboration of art and science, which has allowed us to transform the world’s streets in a beautiful way with Air-Ink,” Sharma said. “Since our pilot launch in Hong Kong last year, we have entered into discussions with several corporations with a view to conduct an industrial deployment of the Air-Ink technology. We hope that with this year's global initiative, we will inspire a city or municipality to conduct their own pilot program together with us in the near future.”

Tiger is a brand in the Heineken portfolio.

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