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Is hallucinogenic gas being used in Tate Modern's big yellow sun installation?
David Adam Thursday October 30, 2003 The Guardian
Disturbing and powerful: Olafur Eliasson's Weather Project at Tate Modern. Photo: Dan Chung
No, or at least it's highly unlikely. Staff at Tate Modern have complained that the chemical haze pumped out as part of Olafur Eliasson's spectacular new Weather Project installation is making them feel disoriented and "trippy" as it slowly spreads from the Turbine Hall through the galleries.
While there is no accounting for the impact of modern art on the individual, it is not thought this type of the atrical smoke - known as a glycol fog - can cause hallucinogenic effects. "I've not heard that one before," says Ron Bonner, technical standards manager for the Professional Lighting and Sound Association (Plasa), which represents companies involved with theatrical effects.
That's not to say there aren't some genuine concerns. Plasa and its sister organisations in the US and Germany recently commissioned two studies into possible health effects of the fog, which is created by flash evaporating a weak mixture of water and the antifreeze ingredient glycol.
Both reports concluded that the chemicals were not toxic and should pose no significant health problems, though Bonner says some worries remain over the risks to people with breathing difficulties. "The studies concluded there weren't any long-term health effects, but there could be acute effects with prolonged exposure to large volumes," he says. "An asthmatic person could suffer an acute reaction."
Disorienting effects of the fog have been documented before, though Bonner says this is only because the fog makes it more difficult for people to see. "I'm an ex-firefighter and we used the stuff in training to disorientate crews," he says. Unlike dry ice, which is made from heavy clouds of carbon dioxide and so tends to sink and hug the ground, glycol fog can hang around for hours. When squirted into the air the chemical vapour condenses to form a haze of liquid droplets that make an ideal surface for special- effects engineers, or artists, to bounce light off. Make the reflected light yellow, and you can even make it seem that the sun has come to Earth, or at least to central London.