“An art-science ACE project to explore the common allergy hay fever, highlighting pollen’s beauty and malevolence.”


‘When the wind blows, the grass bends’ – Confucius 


Cocksfoot grass pollen visualised by a scanning electron microscope  by Susan Brisco


Cocksfoot grass specimen by Susan Brisco


The grains of grass pollen will stay nestled in an anther, lying in wait for a gust of wind to whip them up, airborne, so they can wreak havoc in hay fever sufferers. This nestling can be seen in the SEM image taken from a Cocksfoot grass sample.  

The grass pollen season in the UK begins in April and continues through to early September. Much like tree pollen, it is spread by the wind whistling through the fields and picking up the smooth, powdery pollen grains to transport them for fertilisation elsewhere. When humans get caught in the midst of this process and breathe in the grass pollen they can become wrought with unwanted symptoms. Grass pollen affects approximately 95% of hay fever sufferers, happening as an allergenic reaction as the malevolent pollen takes place inside the complex human body.



Timothy Grass ‘twins’ visualised by a  scanning electron microscope by Susan Brisco


Timothy Grass visualised through SEM by Susan Brisco


Cocksfoot grass is a native species that grows in fields, meadows and hedgerows. It is a very common allergen, causing both hay fever and asthma symptoms as it is inhaled into the respiratory system.  The pollen grains from  Cocksfoot grass (and many other grass pollens) are minuscule and microscopic inhibiting their own invisible world.  As pollen floats gently around in the air , invisible to the naked eye  it silently brings challenging times for the hay fever sufferers who are trying to avoid it.  SNEEZE has created access for everyone to creatively visualise  the invisible world of the grass pollen.

One of the key focuses for the SNEEZE project has been concerned with pollen counting. This vital process, carried out by palynologists, collects pollen from the air  in pollen traps and analyses samples  to create daily regional pollen-forecasts. The Pollen counting service helps people stay informed and prepared to combat the pollen’s allergenic effects.   Their daily reports become vital for sufferers to conduct their day and manage treatments. Artists Susan Brisco was privileged to observe this process at Worcester University pollen  forecasting centre and she thanks them for their support.

The process of pollen-counting has been championed  and bought to life through the final body of artwork for the SNEEZE project, including a short film entitled ‘Pollen Trap ( https://vimeo.com/399860670)  and a microscopic slide installation entitled ‘Gather’d in Countless Array’. For more detail on these artworks visit the ‘SNEEZE: Artistic Outcomes’ page.


You can follow the Sneeze Project on Instagram @thesneezeproject