Breathworks made breath and breathlessness visible beyond the clinical or biological framings that might sometimes contain respiratory narratives (Macnaughton 2020; Mbembe 2020). In responding to the theme of breathing through creative engagement, participants drew attention to both microcosmic stirrings and seismic ripples. The resultant body of audiovisual works spans multiple scales and includes beyond human perspectives, highlighting ecological connections and expanded imaginaries of breath’s importance and scope.
As I move into the evaluation phase of this project, I begin to consider what Breathworks might contribute to broader conversations about the ‘becoming together’ of people, places and the air that flows through both. Encouraged by a subsequent research collaboration with cultural geographer Derek McCormack, I have contemplated Breathworks’ synergy with recent attempts to develop political ecologies for our present moment. I am especially drawn to anthropologist Timothy Choy’s re-appropriation of the word conspiracy, which he describes as a ‘commitment to breathing together from and in and unequally shared milieu’ (2016). If ‘to conspire’ means ‘to breathe together with’, then Breathworks is a conspiracy of breathers, breathing together yet uniquely.
Conspiratorial practices are re-emerging in queer and feminist studies, black scholarship, and decolonial and multispecies bodies of literature (among others). These voices and the social movements that buoy them use breath as a tool to galvanise and reveal underplayed histories and less visible instances of suffocation (e.g. Crawley 2016; Simmons 2017; Cervenak 2018; Hecht 2019; Mbembe 2020; Myers 2020; Neimanis 2020; Rahman and de Mori 2020). Why pay heed to breath in all its shapes, flows and rifts? The answer might be in the practice. To follow breathing is to perform an ontological networking. Emulating the inhale and exhale by turning inwards to turn outwards, there is a conflation (literally ‘blowing together’) of self and other. Air becomes breath then air again, tracing our existing connections with(in) the atmosphere and, in continuation, its material, biotic and energetic forces.
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The author wishes to thank Art Fund and The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) for their generous support. She is also grateful to Professor Derek McCormack, author of Atmospheric Things (2018), for steering the research project that Breathworks became.
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