When you start to tune in to the act of breathing, when you watch someone drawing breath - you
notice how the body changes, the chest expands, the skeleton shifts with the inward rush of air, the
muscles of the torso, face and neck, flex and twitch. The act of breathing embodies the animation
of life. When making the over 1,300 drawings of my 5 year old son for 'Breathe' (2012), I felt I was
literally 'drawing' breath into his body, the process of repeatedly drawing him, encapsulating for me
a sense of nurturing and sustaining. I wanted to induce a heightened consciousness about the act
of breathing, it being the first sign of animate life and the last register at the moment of passing.
This is my son - but the faltering rhythms seemed to become representative of all our
vulnerabilities, the tightrope walk we're on, a sense of vulnerability and fragility between movement
and stillness, ranging from regular and even breathing when content and at rest, to laboured and
anxious after exertion or when under duress, to the tension of the held suspended image when
breathing appears to falter or stop. Most of the time we are not conscious of this action; breathing
is a constant involuntary exchange between us and the environment we are in, an interdependent
embrace, the external internalised, then our actions both individual and collective, emanate out to
effect our environment.
I wanted to create a moving image that reflects not only on the direct environmental challenges,
but which also reflects upon a wider concept of the universal hope and aspiration embedded in the
preservation of life. At certain points the drawings breakdown and become sketchy and
diagrammatic, minimal and abstracted, even x-ray like - almost shrinking to the pulse of a few
dense lines - like the beating of a heart - or reduced to the head alone before the torso reemerges
filled with the intake of air - following the pathway of the airstream from the nose, mouth and lungs
to the thorax and the limbs. It struck me that the atmosphere surrounding the screen, can be
perceived as sustaining and ventilating the animation.
Although evolving from a response to the potential harmful effects of air quality, how the air as well
as sustaining us can carry with it diverse, altering and potentially harmful residues, I became
excited about how the fragile drawn lines and jittery movement could become a carrier of further
information and urgency. A vulnerable figure of a child emphasises this notion of powerlessness and passivity, a call to action, that we are all (as well as those people who find themselves in positions of power and influence) custodians of the environment and the world we live in, we have a collective responsibility to be active in some way, to push against the variety of malignant forces that surround us. 'Breathe' is a portrayal of my son's vulnerability, an attempt to translate into a visceral experience the personal and individual to become public and universal.
Originally positioned high up on St Thomas's hospital on an eight metre high screen, across the
Thames facing the Houses of Parliament, one of the Western world's most powerful institutions.
As we have moved forward in time and 'Breathe' gets shown again, my son metaphorically looks out at an
even broader scape, the vastness and sense of disruption of the multiple challenges in this
increasingly destabilised and changing world. A moving image that in some small way I hope,
contributes to a sense of urgency and need to focus our attention and collectively react, the desire
to build for a future transformed; more equal, more responsible and a more humane world.
Dryden Goodwin, August 2016
'Breathe', was originally commissioned and produced by Invisible Dust, part of a programme of artist and scientist collaborations. Curator and Director of Invisible Dust, Alice Sharp linked Goodwin with Professor Frank Kelly, an expert on lung health at King's College London and an advisor to the Government on air pollutants.
video made of the launch of Breathe with short interviews
Documentation of talks & discussions at the House of Commons - www.parliament.uk
Professor Frank Kelly - King's College London