Art for Air

When I’m not on the computer researching my next blog post, watching Youtube videos, on Facebook or stumbling on Stumbleupon (which only happens when I am most desperate), I read the occasional webcomic. Funnily enough, I don’t normally read comics in print form (I’d rather read a good book), but something about the online platform gives me a better sense of appreciation for the art of comics (and the fact that most webcomics are free-to-read helps as well). As with all things on the web, there are thousands if not millions of webcomics out on the interwebs, which means it can be quite the task to find a webcomic that piques your interest and manages to sustain that interests long enough to get you coming back for more. Aside from being a great time-waster, some of the best webcomics combine beautiful art styles with wonderfully written stories to create works of art comparable to great movies. While I could use this post to talk about my favorite webcomics, I wanted to talk about one webcomic in particular (but if you were looking for recommendations, you should check out xkcd, The Phoenix Requiem, and for the table-top gamer: The Order of the Stick).

Art by Wenqing Yan

Like movies and books, my taste in webcomics usually falls within the categories of science-fiction and fantasy. It’s these genres that really resonate with me, probably due to their connection with sustainability, technology, and the fate of the human race. But one webcomic that I particular enjoy is neither science-fiction nor fantasy. A while ago, I was introduced to Knite, a webcomic by the talented Wenqing Yan. The story follows a Chinese student named Sen who flies kites with strings of lights attached to the ends in order to light up a smog-filled night sky and remind people of the existence and beauty of stars (all though I’m not too clear how the lights are powered…he must need a lot of extension cords). It’s an incredibly romantic notion, young people giving life and beauty back into polluted world by bringing back the stars. The story deals with topics such as the consequences of industrial pollution and politics while also touching on universal themes such as friendship, trust and family issues. I find the incredibly realist ideas and the romantic notions an intriguing mix and highly recommend the webcomic. The art style is also very appealing, similar to the Japanese Manga style and filled with soft color combinations (the skies are particular appealing to me). There are only 4 chapters out right now, but I believe that more will arrive in the future.

The reason I’m writing about Knite isn’t only to recommend it, it’s also because recently, Wenqing Yan notified all Facebook Knite fans of a Kickstarter Project called FLOAT Beijing. The project is very similar to the premise of Knite, but instead of having lights strung up with the kites, air quality monitors are attached to the kites. When the kites are flown in the night sky of Beijing, the monitors will map and record the air quality and display colors according the quality of the air. The project is both research and public art, drawing attention to urban environmental issues. If you have any extra spending money burning a hole in your pocket, consider donating to this project.

FLOAT Beijing also got me thinking: what other uses do kites have, other than just enjoyment? If we can attach air quality monitors to kites, can we attach air purifiers to kites? After some quick research (which consisted of typing “kites that purify air” into Google), it seems like no one is currently working on such a project. Miniature air purifiers are about 2.4 ounces and require batteries, but it’d be interesting to see if one could attach air purifiers to kites so that when flown, the kites actually clean the air they fly in. Kites are also being researched for their effectiveness in harvesting wind energy. Kites are a lot cheaper than wind turbines, and Dutch scientists have found that a 10-square meter kite can produce 10 kilowatts of power. While also being works of art, Kites can serve an even greater purpose as champions of clean air and energy.

EDIT: I just recently found a short TED talk by Saul Griffith, co-founder of Makani Power, a company that is engineering giant kite turbines to generate electricity. Perhaps in the future we will have large plane-like kites flying in the sky that generate electricity for us?

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