Catching our breath

by Jade Westerman, Exhibition Project Officer


Image: Jade Westerman
Image: Jade Westerman

Things came to a close last month for Catch Your Breath at the Royal College of Physicians with their annual Open House during London’s Open House Festival. The RCP opened its doors for weekend viewings, architecture tours, Catch Your Breath exhibition tours, and an open studio held by artist Jayne Wilton.

Jayne and her team ran multiple activities during the all-day open studio in the Platt Room at the RCP – an incredible space on the lower ground floor of the 1960s Brutalist building with wide-open windows looking out onto the RCP’s Medicine Gardens. Activities included creating 3D models of the breath out of clay based on her series Conversation Pieces, 3D prints of the turbulence of breath as it leaves the mouth to form certain words. There were also 2D methods of visualising the breath, such as bubble art and plate pressing with ink.

About Jayne

Jayne Wilton is a visual artist who explores the breath the exchange between people and their environments. Her practice uses darkroom processes with drawing, photography, video and sound to capture the usually invisible trace of breath as it moves across a surface. She graduated with an MA from The Slade School of Fine Art in 2010 and has shown extensively in the UK and abroad. Previous collaborations include working with Physicist Peter Hobson at Brunel University during a Leverhulme funded residency (2012). During 2014, she was awarded an Arts Council Grant for the Arts to work with Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospital NHS Foundation Trust to visualise the breath of staff and patients with COPD.  Jayne is currently collaborating with the Life of Breath project and was commissioned in 2016 by The Respiratory Lancet to create the 12 monthly Journal’s Covers for that year.

Image: Jade Westerman

Many visitors were mesmerised with the process of visualising their breath, fascinated at being able to transform something usually invisible into their very own visual art to take away with them.

Image: Jade Westerman

The final aspect of the open studio involved joining Danish artist Jeppe Hein’s international project Breathe With Me (21 – 27 September 2019): a process he hopes will make people think about their own sustainability and the effect they have on the planet on which we must all coexist. Just a few hours ahead of the main event at the United Nations, we kicked things off with our very own canvas here at the RCP.

“Life begins with an inhale and ends with an exhale. In-between we all breathe and live different lives. And yet, each breath keeps us together, connected, sharing the same air.”

Jeppe Hein
Image: Jade Westerman

Jayne created some of the wonderful artworks that were on display at both the original exhibition at Palace Green Library (Durham) and at the RCP. In case you missed both exhibitions, here are some of her works that we’ve had on display:

Breath with turns back toward itself

Breath and blown glass

Traditional glassblowing involves exhaling into molten glass through a pipe. To create this piece, Jayne also inhaled through the pipe before the glass had cooled, creating a lung-like form which reveals the force of the exhale and inhale together. The piece was inspired by the Life of Breath project’s research into the ancient philosopher Philo, whose work includes an investigation of the breathing cycle. Philo believed that breath was what gave integrity to all things, allowing them to remain whole.

Breath which turns back toward itself by Jayne Wilton.
Image: Jade Westerman

Conversation Piece: Happen and Concern

ABS plastic

These sculpture, created by Jayne as part of her residency at Brunel University, visualises the movement of breath from the mouth as the words ‘happen’ and ‘concern’ are spoken. The audio recording the words being said were turned into computer simulations visualising the gas exchange, with the shape of the movement of gas then rendered into ABS plastic by a 3D printer.

Drawing Breath 2

Breath and light on coloured sensitised paper

Jayne’s work uses a variety of materials to explore the artist’s fascination with breath. The Drawing Breath series uses dark room processes to capture the trace of a breath as it moves across a surface, making a normally invisible moment spectacularly visible.

Drawing Breath 2 by Jayne Wilton

Breathe series

Breath etched into copper plates

This series of images was created with patients at the Royal Brompton Pulmonary Rehabilitation Unit. Jayne asked patients to breathe onto copper plates, often during periods of exercise, and then applied oil-based ink before immersing the plates in ferric chloride. This process preserves the shape of the breath, creating marks and colours to form a unique portrait of the patients at various stages of illness recovery.

Now we look forward to a new version of Catch Your Breath along with a free, diverse events programme in Bristol. The exhibition can be found at Southmead Hospital from 24 September 2019 to 27 December 2020. It will then be joined by our Catch Your Breath pop-up touring exhibition at Bristol Central Library in the new year until 27 February 2020.

Events from the programme – including talks from Life of Breath researchers Havi Carel and Coreen McGuire and workshops like Breath-Body-Mind Integration with Life of Breath’s Kate BInnie – will be scattered around venues throughout the city to promote better access. All details of the events can be found on our What’s On page. More events will be released for the new year, so make sure to keep checking for new additions!

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