Interview: On Breathing and Air Pollution

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Interview on UK national radio

EC: Presenter, Emma Critchley; LS: Lucy Sabin.

EC: Lucy Sabin has made a composition from her yogic breaths. More than 50 breathing techniques recorded over a three-hour period. Through her installation, she invites audiences to stop and listen to these breaths through her headphones. It’s a space to focus on the often forgotten act of breathing and the importance of air itself.


EC: The quality of the air we breathe, and its relationship to our very existence, underlies Lucy’s work…

LS: Nine out of ten of us are now breathing polluted air, say the World Health Organisation.

Speaking about ‘air quality’ makes it sound abstract but actually, we’re talking about what makes air breathable. Good air is air that we can breathe without any adverse effects.

EC: To most plants, the fumes from cars and buses can be damaging. But Lucy has found and mapped a species of lichen that thrives off pollution –

LS: At the moment, there’s a lot of Xanthoria parietina […] which is the golden yellow, sort of scaly lichen that we often see on roadsides –

EC: – and she has exhibited the lichen using different mediums such as a micrograph video, filmed using a microscope.

LS: So, my idea was to show the lichen on three different scales. So you have the micro and then you have the macro and then you have the human scale. So you can either regard it with the naked human eye or use the magnifying glass. And it was about, I think, troubling, to a certain extent, the human perspective because we often, sort of, assume that what we see and what we experience is the truth. But when we look more closely at something, when we use perhaps a technological perspective as well, such as the microscope, we then see that there are these microcosms that exist all around us, all the time and air pollution is affecting species in ways that we can’t imagine. It’s affecting our lungs that we, perhaps on a daily basis, cannot imagine because the scale is different to what we’re used to perceiving.

Source: ‘Filth’, Art of Now, BBC Radio 4, broadcasted 28 Jan and 1 Feb 2020.