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‘Laughing gas’ canister art is no joke

Discarded nitrous oxide containers found on street are used to create ‘urban fossils’

21 February, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Mr J and Ms E scour the streets at night for empty nitrous oxide cannisters to archive where they were found and create works of art

DISCARDED empty nitrous oxide canisters are the scourge of many parks and roads in Islington, but two artists have started collecting them in “night-time hunts” to create huge art installations.

The artists, who want to remain anonymous, go out on hunting trips cycling around London scouring the streets for the distinctive little silver canisters to fill their bags and wobble home.

Nitrous oxide or “laughing gas” canisters have become a popular drug known as “Noz” or “hippy crack” where the gas is cracked into a balloon and then inhaled, giving the user a brief lightheaded feeling.

One of the artists, who calls herself Ms E and lives in Upper Holloway, said: “I was cycling around London and all of a sudden these roads were covered in nitrous oxide canisters. It was like it just happened overnight; one day the streets were clean and the next the canisters were everywhere.”

The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 made it illegal to use nitrous oxide as a recreational drug.

Ms E believes this act hasn’t made a dent in the number of people using the drug, as no prosecutions have been successful, but instead it has caused dealers and users to dump the empty canisters in the streets out of fear of being caught with them.


She said: “It is the most wasteful drug I can possibly think of, in terms of the environment. A lot of them are made in factories in Taiwan. They are then shipped over here in big freights, to be cracked into a balloon for a 10-second high and then chucked on the street.”

The 53-year-old says she has done about 60 cycling trips collecting between 150 and 300 each time. She has been joined by Mr J for many of these trips.

Ms E said: “I began to find them fascinating. We found bent ones, rusted ones, ones with amazing patinas. The force that is needed to bend these things is amazing.

“Each one has its own personal story.”

The pair began archiving the canisters they found, with street locations and times, as if they were “urban fossils”.

A few of their archived display boxes have now been submitted to the Royal Academy of Arts in a bid for them to be displayed at the 2020 Summer Exhibition.

Mr J, 47, added: “It seems like they are not recycled a lot of the time. We’ve got loads of ideas for what we can do with them.

“We want to pitch for a public art project. They could be melted down and then we can use the steel to create giant canisters for the public to use as benches or ‘Nitronite Amnesty Bins’. I think it would encourage other people to do what we do.”

Nitrous oxide is used legally to pump cream out of cans in the catering industry and for medicinal use as an anaesthetic.

You can find out more about the pair and their adventures by visiting


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