DUST | 2018-2023

DUST | 2018-2023

“For dust we are and to data we shall return.”

#319, DUST VR
DUST, 2018-2023, introduction

DUST is an environmental exploration into the unseen world of urban particulate matter. Powered by Sensor.Community’s global network of environmental civic tech and radio aporee’s canvas of ambient phonography, this virtual reality experience offers a captivating and thought-provoking encounter with the impact of dust on both our daily lives and urban environments.

DUST transforms real-time data obtained from Sensor.Community’s environmental sensors into three-dimensional virtual environments. It then simulates virtual agents that replicate the behavior of cars, people, bikes, and wind, causing disturbances in the dust and unveiling remarkable causal effects. DUST is a suite of tools employing C++, Python, QGIS, Meshlab and openframeworks.

the microscopic apocalypse

“The extinction event of dinosaurs was instigated by particulate matter. A parallel destiny is presently unfolding for humanity, albeit in slow motion: The emergence of pervasive dust as humanity’s cave painting on the fossil canvas of time, the microscopic apocalypse.”

#319, the flicker of universes
New Media Gallery, New Westminster, Vancouver, 2023, photo by NMG

“Using VR, a virtual space, artist Michael Saup has constructed an incredible realm of wonder, a world where reality and data merge. There eternity and instant coexist, virtuality and reality coexist, along with miracle and disillusion.”

Liu Chang – https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s?__biz=MzA3MzE3MjcyOA==&mid=2651342336&idx=1&sn=0e6c90116308f24a3fe2c5c50f807cb2

Dust is the melancholy of matter, bearing witness to the vanity of it all.

Thomas Palzer

Immersive Networks: Environmental Virtual Reality & worldwide Civic Tech

Dust Clouds – Data Oblivion

DUST uses virtual reality to represent and investigate the invisible sphere of urban particulate matter, which is gathered and shared by Sensor.Community, our global sensor network driven by civic tech dedicated to generating Open Environmental Data. We aim to shed light on the latest advancements in open data and civic tech, dispelling the common lack of awareness regarding the significant impact that both dust and data have on our personal lives.

It is estimated that one human life is lost prematurely every 5 seconds due to exposure to dust. Furthermore, it is estimated that one human life is lost prematurely every 8 minutes due to the exposure to dust originating from the production, delivery and consumption of digital data.

“we disappear, but dust is forever”

Dorothy Woodend

Dust is Data – Data is Dust

Particulate matter, also known as airborne dust, is universally familiar. Volcanic ashes, sandstorms, forest fires, construction residue, vehicle and industrial emissions are among the largest contributors today, but the origins of the planet, all known species and the universe itself derive from dust borne by interstellar dust clouds.

In the mid-1930s, storms transformed the southern Great Plains into the Dust Bowl, rendering an area as large as Germany uninhabitable. 500,000 people from Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Texas lost their homes and livelihoods, prompting a westward migration.

Data Clouds – Data Dust

The singularity and omnipresence of dust is no longer unrivaled. In the new world, interstellar dust clouds may be overshadowed by virtual data clouds. Data has become the new essential building block. Much like dust, data is amorphous: sometimes filtered, sometimes free flowing. Like dust, data passes through us and all around us.

Glowing Globe, Rijeka, 2019

“Dust carries wisdom; Data captures knowledge.”


Sensors and Sovereignty

People have long understood dust may be harmful and have sought to avoid undue exposure. But until recently the definition and monitoring of the threat level depended on governments and institutions and the biases they bring to their assessment of costs and benefits.

St Maria Church Stuttgart, photo by Frank Kleinbach, 2018

Curiously, data now empowers people to do their own cost-benefit analysis: individuals can carry out environmental tests privately with low cost sensors and distribute the results on the internet, bringing about a culture of civic tech. Our work DUST enables viewers to experience virtual exposure to microscopic matter suspended in the atmosphere.

“Lifelike behaviors could be exhibited by dust particles suspended in a plasma”

Wikipedia on dusty plasma-based biology: nonplanetary non-chemical life
Environmental Data Triptych “The Garden of Earthly Dust”, First Exhibit at St Maria Church Stuttgart: “For dust you are and to dust you shall return”. Photo by Frank Kleinbach, 2018.

The outer panels of the triptych display a map with real time environmental data metrics such as air pollution, traffic density and radioactivity levels. A virtual reality head mounted display allows the viewer to visit the sites.

Vast amounts of data are not comprehensive as the majority of people don’t know how to apply such data and either wouldn’t have the time or inclination to use it. Therefore we aim to establish an open platform for monitoring, experiencing and communicating environmental data as meaningful information.

Interview Deutsche Welle | Sustainable Cities - the scourge of particulate matter (excerpt)

Many of us will produce, curate and consume such data in the very near future, promoting democratic benefits such as education, transparency and civic engagement.

Users enter an uncanny landscape that seamlessly blends street locations with real-time data collected by citizens. The result is a mesmerizing and, at times, unsettling aestheticized experience. Matevž Kolenc’s haunting score adds depth, creating a sci-fi atmosphere that underscores the very real threat of dust pollution on our future.


The VR journey includes the ability to explore over 13,000 sensor locations worldwide, each contributing to real-time environmental data displayed as digital particles. These sensors offer a global perspective on the accumulation of particulate emissions in different locations.

As users delve into this immersive environment, virtual agents mimic the behavior of cars, people, bikes, and wind, disturbing the dust and revealing astonishing causal effects.

Beyond its technical complexity, “Dust VR” invites contemplation. It prompts reflection on mortality, dissolution, and the fleeting nature of existence. While the installation embodies a sense of mournfulness, it also celebrates the beauty that emerges and fades in our brief moments of existence.

As visitors experience Dust VR, they will be transported to a realm where reality and data converge, where the impermanence of life meets the enduring presence of dust. This experience challenges perceptions, offering a glimpse of the profound and eternal within the ephemeral, ultimately leaving audiences with a renewed sense of wonder about the world we inhabit.

“…the twenty first century is the century of dust…”

Jussi Parikka


Michael Saup is an artist, instrumentalist, coder and filmmaker. He has acted as professor of digital media art at HfG/ZKM University in Germany and as the founding director of the Oasis Archive of the European Union. He is the co-founder of the Open Home Project, a humanitarian initiative to help people being affected by nuclear disaster. Amongst others, his work has been awarded by the Ars Electronica and the UNESCO Commission. Michael Saup’s work focuses on the underlying forces of nature and society; an ongoing research into what he calls the “Infossil Archaeology of Future”. His work, often in cooperation with other artists, has been shown widely in exhibitions, festivals and on stages around the world. He currently lives and works in Berlin.


Matevž Kolenc is a composer, arranger, producer and instrumentalist. He started his career as a music composer for theatre performances, but later became a driving force behind the band Melodrom with whom they released four full length studio albums between 2004 and 2010 (Nika records). Since 2012 he is also an active member of Laibach, for whom he writes, arranges and produces music. Most notably, he collaborated with Laibach on their albums “Spectre” and “Also sprach Zarathustra” (2017, Mute records), last being entirely his work, originally created for the purpose of a theatre performance by the same name (directed by Matjaž Berger), and later released as a full length album and also performed in rearranged version by Laibach with Lviv Philharmonic Orchestra (2018).


Jan Lutz of luftdaten.info together with Lukas Mocek, Pierre-Jean Guéno, Rajko Zschiegner and David Lackovic of Sensor.Community established a contributors driven global sensor network that creates Open Environmental Data. The mission of Sensor.Community is to inspire and enrich people’s lives by offering a platform for the collective curiosity in nature that is genuine, joyful and positive. The network consists of sensors that are built by individuals and communities around the world. These sensors are used to measure environmental data such as temperature, humidity, air pressure, and air quality. The data collected by these sensors is then made available to everyone through an open data platform. The platform allows users to access real-time environmental data from around the world. This data can be used for research, education, and advocacy purposes.


aporee.org has, over the years, curated a comprehensive collection of sounds from around the world, thanks to the contributions of a diverse community of artists, phonographers, and sound enthusiasts. This platform not only serves as a repository for soundscapes but also provides collaborative tools for artistic practices and research in the field. Beyond its primary functions of collecting, archiving, and sound-mapping, radio aporee engages in boundary-pushing experiments across different media and public spaces.



  • St Maria Kirche Stuttgart, Germany
    • October 10, 2018
  • Oval Office, Schauspielhaus Bochum, Germany
    • December 13, 2018
  • Citylab Berlin 2019-2020, Germany
    • June 13, 2019
  • The Future of Technology for Sustainable Development, GIZ, Berlin, Germany
    • October 22, 2019
  • Glowing Globe, Rijeka, Croatia
    • November 13, 2019
  • Transport & Climate Change Week, Berlin, Germany
    • March 5, 2020
  • Laibach 40th Anniversary, Trbovlje, Slovenia
    • (cancelled due to covid pandemic)
  • speculum artium, Trbovlje, Slovenia
    • October 15, 2020
  • Deutsche Welle TV – Eco India – The Environment Magazine Sustainable Cities, Mumbai, India
    • December 18, 2020
  • Particles EP, Matevz Kolenc, Nature scene records, Ljubljana & London
    • July 23, 2021
  • DIVE Festival, Planetarium Bochum, Germany
    • November 4, 2021
  • Generalkonsulat Wrocław, Poland
    • September 3, 2022
  • Ein Wochenende fürs Klima, Planetarium Bochum, Germany
    • November 19, 2022
  • Pochen Chemnitz, Germany
    • September 29, 2022
  • New Media Gallery, New Westminster, Vancouver, Canada
    • June 4, 2023
  • NOWNESS Genius Project, Cinema in Meta, 硅晶的眼神 , Shanghai Power Station of Art, China
    • December 15, 2023


  • Co-produced by Drehmoment – KulturRegion Stuttgart curated by Benjamin Heidersberger and inspired by luftdaten.info
  • Supported by St Maria Kirche Stuttgart & Andréas Hofstetter-Straka
  • Supported by High Performance Computing Center Stuttgart (HLRS)
  • Supported by Oval Office, Schauspielhaus Bochum curated by Tobias Staab
  • Supported by Pochen Chemnitz and European Capital of Culture 2025
  • Barnaby W.V. Stewart, Foresight & Perspective
  • with the help of Andrea Winter, Andreas Erhart, Dietmar Offenhuber
  • created with C++, Meshlab, QGIS and openFrameworks
  • environmanetal data feeds by https://sensor.community (formerly known as luftdaten.info)
  • pointclouds by https://www.google.com, fair use for cultural and educational purposes
Interview Rijeka EU Capital of Culture 2020
Rachel Topham Photography @racheltophamphotography
DUST, 2018-2023, environmental VR, 1 space, 3 screens, 3 VR stations, 59 community labs, 78 countries, 12,000 sensors, 2,000,000 particles, 24,000,000,000 data points @ New Media Gallery, New Westminster, 2023 @racheltophamphotography


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