In Memory of Air

Mixed media installation and panel event. Making Public, Royal College of Art, 2019.

Visitors to Making Public, the end-of-year show at the RCA, were invited to pause amid the busyness and rest on this park bench, where they could tune into a composition of breathing sounds, subsequently sampled for an Art of Now episode on BBC Radio 4.

Benches are often provided as a public good and social resource, which ties in with discourses about the right to clean air and the atmosphere itself as a shared commons. Experientially, the bench is a vantage point for seeing the world in motion; its existence and orientation invite both appreciation and contemplation of the surrounding environs as an act of restful self-care. In the installation, the furniture’s displacement from outdoor space to gallery also disrupts preconceptions about interiority and exteriority, much like the element of air and the act of breathing.

A plaque inscribed with the enigmatic phrase ‘in memory of air’ pays tribute to Luce Irigaray’s metaphysical and eco-feminist treatise, L’oubli de l’air chez Martin Heidegger (1983), which exposes Western society’s ‘forgetting’ (‘oubli’) of air. Interpreted in a futuristic sense, the phrase could also invoke a spacetime wherein air as we know it (e.g. somewhat breathable air) is ontologically usurped by atmospheric pollution. In other words, at what point would the atmosphere become toxic effluence that is alien to our embodied understanding and biological makeup?

See accompanying article, ‘Breathing and nothingness’ (Sabin 2019), published on medical humanities platform, The Polyphony.