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Lucy Sabin


Lucy Sabin

Candidate – PhD Geography (Practice-Related)



Supervisors: Professor Andrew Barry (Geography), Professor Joy Sleeman (Slade School of Fine Art)

Funding: London Arts and Humanities Partnership (LAHP)



An ontology of ‘air quality’ from numerical indices to embodied practices

Air Quality Indices (AQIs) are devices for monitoring and visually mapping specific airborne pollutants (gases and/or particulate matter) across geographic zones. State-endorsed AQIs inform public health research, policies and lifestyle behaviours by effectively representing environments as either safe or unsafe to both decision-makers and citizens. While this representational force may render specific pollutants visible, it cannot speak to the diverse and dynamic relationships between bodies and aerial matter that ‘air quality’ ultimately denotes.

This interdisciplinary research project will examine how AQIs are both validated and visualised through diverse social and technical means. First, via multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork with air quality analysts and critically or speculatively engaged designers, I will delineate the formative stages in the production of an AQI to indicate where design thinking or community consultation could intervene. Second, I will then develop accounts of air pollution that transcend indexable representation through an embodied practice of what I term ‘airscaping'. Airscaping is intended to mobilise ‘more- than-representational’ modalities (Lorimer 2005) for paying heed to air pollution that invoke an affective urgency befitting the scale of the problemin ways that numerical indices cannot. After all, ‘air quality’ only exists as a concept because it refers to an impact on life, not just to the concentrations of specific pollutants at a fixed location. ‘Air quality’ is not an abstract property that inheres in air, but a complex relationship between diverse breathers and dynamic pollutants.


Academic Qualifications

2020 –
PhD Geography (Practice-Related)
University College London

MRes RCA: Communication Design Pathway
Royal College of Art

BA Liberal Arts with Philosophy, French and Spanish and Year Abroad (First-Class Hons)
Durham University



Born in 1993 to a yoga teacher and ecobuild entrepreneur, Lucy attended local state schools and excelled academically. At Durham University, she achieved First-Class Honours in French, Spanish and Philosophy, Distinctions in Spoken French and Spanish, and the Vice Chancellor’s Scholarship for Academic Excellence. Her paper on gender in Iberian cinema was published in peer-reviewed journal, Film Matters. As part of her degree, Lucy interned in Paris and studied art at the Universidad de Vigo. Post-graduation, she explored roles in user experience, building on the research skills she acquired as a student journalist. Outside office hours, Lucy learned some front-end programming (HTML, CSS, JavaScript) and graphic design. She also instructed yoga  several times a week and is an alumna of the Vajrasati School.

Wishing to develop her creativity further with mentorship, Lucy applied to the Royal College of Art. During the MRes in Communication, she found her voice as an artist-researcher. For her thesis, she interviewed artists and scientists who map (chart variations in) air, positing ‘atmospheric cartography’ as a multidisciplinary collection of practices. She also co-edited an anthology, Archives of Curiosity, participated in Radical Landscapes exhibition and was interviewed for BBC Radio 4. Lucy began lecturing at University for the Creative Arts, University of Brighton and Arts University Bournemouth (ongoing).

In early 2020, she started a participatory project called Breathworks at Modern Art Oxford. The resultant online exhibition inspired a series of panel events and gallery installations, with support from the University of Oxford (TORCH) and Art Fund, plus a forthcoming paper in collaboration with Derek McCormack, author of Atmospheric Things. Breathworks featured in BBC Arts, Art Daily, a-n and The Oxford Times. Lucy continues to develop her portfolio in tandem with a practice-related doctorate: working across the UCL Department of Geography and Slade School of Fine Art, she investigates the ontology of ‘air quality’, from numerical indices to embodied practices.


Artist Statement

Positioned between the environmental humanities and experiential arts, my creative research explores and articulates elemental geographies, particularly with respect to atmospheric phenomena and the anthropogenic debris that circulate around and within bodies. My practice explores our encounters with air and said aerial pollutants from various perspectives – spanning technoscientific indices, biomonitoring with plant communities, and embodied practices such as mindfulness of breathing. I am interested in collaborations that explore, articulate and creatively communicate our entangled relationships that extend across ‘the environment’, while also confronting the differences in exposure due to societal inequalities.

More information is available on my website: