Breathworks – Breathing and Creativity

breathworks-book-landscape

In this blog post, originally for Modern Art Oxford, I outline how the versatility and vital (life-giving) potential of breathing can open doors for creative action today.

Recently I’ve been working with Modern Art Oxford on a project called Breathworks, which invites our audiences to produce experimental responses to and recordings of their breath. As Creative Associate (Digital), researching and developing Breathworks has been fascinating. It’s been wonderful to have an excuse to talk about breathing with so many knowledgeable individuals, both within and beyond the gallery.

Since Breathworks was conceived, breath itself has become a hot topic in 2020. Over the past few months, the purpose of Breathworks – to encourage creative connection through experimental approaches to and representations of breathing — gained newfound relevance for humankind. The immortal and tragic words, “I can’t breathe”, echoed during antiracist protests, follows the global outbreak of an airborne virus which has engulfed any sense of normality provoking, in turn, noticeable reductions in air pollution. I mention these diverse phenomena in one sentence (or in one breath?) not to demean or conflate their ongoing, profound and complex reverberations, but to illustrate that breath is a prominent theme of 2020; it is at the fore of our collective mind.

Introducing Breathworks

Modern Art Oxford

‘The Yard’. MAO gallery entrance designed by KLH architects. Photo: MAO.

Breathworks, my latest commission from Modern Art Oxford, is a participatory arts project with a strong focus on digital community growth. In August, we will invite a diverse audience to creatively engage with their breath by conveying one of their experiences of breathing through an image and sound recording.  This audience-generated content will be hosted on Modern Art Oxford’s website and shared on social media channels, available to view and interact with across multiple devices. Some of the ‘breathworks’ will also be selected for exhibition in the gallery as part of the Autumn programme. Over 200,000 people are expected to engage with the project, 30% of these being newcomers to the gallery and its work.

Interview: On Breathing and Air Pollution

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Transcript

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, [28 Jan 2020].

 

Atmospheric Cartography: In Print and Online

Cartography is not simply a representation of an area. It is a process informed by perspective, purpose and values. Maps, in turn, inform the perspectives, purposes values of the navigators that use them.

Maps of airspaces are increasingly important for monitoring and communicating information about air pollution and climate change. Now is an opportune moment to constructively question the ontological and aesthetic rationale of what I call ‘atmospheric cartography’…

Read the online version here.

Research Interests: breath, phenomenology, embodiment, multi-species storytelling, entanglement, atmosphere, new materialisms, sensory maps, first-person geographies, citizen-science, cultural climatology.