The Data That We Breathe
London-based aritst, writer and performer Caroline Bergvall, writer and code artist Judd Morrissey, and cross-disciplinary writer and scholar Jennifer Scappettone (University of Chicago, Department of English) launch a series of experiments into the physical and poetic dimensions of breath: its channeling in the evolution and performance of human languages, and its molecular migrations through instruments, terrains, and times.
London-based aritst, writer and performer Caroline Bergvall, writer and code artist Judd Morrissey, and cross-disciplinary writer and scholar Jennifer Scappettone (University of Chicago, Department of English) launch a series of experiments into the physical and poetic dimensions of breath: its channeling in the evolution and performance of human languages, and its molecular migrations through instruments, terrains, and times. Histories of the circulation of air in relation to aesthetic, philosophical, social, and industrial dimensions are at the root of these investigations. The collaborators will try to re-situate and revitalize the poetic notion of inspiration within an expanded sensorium where breath is acknowledged not only as its literal foundation, but as an agent subject to the contemporary realities of contaminated air and bioengineered synthetic life. Their research will form the basis of a collaborative project of collecting and performing the circulation of this fugitive matter that binds interior and exterior, individual and collective, human and non-human currents.
As breath requires friction and contact in order to generate sound and language, it highlights the physical and empirical vectors of textual/linguistic expression. As air is life-giving in some places, but injurious in others (comparing the North Shore suburbs, for example, with the communities surrounding the petcoke piles along the Calumet River)—and as some are given the opportunity to breathe freely while others are not—this notion of inspiration highlights the uneven distribution, even the privatization, of rights and resources assumed to be shared equally by all.
Our collaborative research will consist in examining the vast and disparate question of breath from the perspective of literary, linguistic, artistic and body practice models as much as current activist “forensic research” models and contemporary sociopolitical realities in order to develop a multidimensional and context-specific poetics. This mixed-reality poetics is the backbone of our research together, and will help us develop new ways of working. We embrace the opportunity to stretch our skill sets and knowledge base by processing (and expanding) materials, analyses and ideas offered up by the sciences and social sciences through the prism of arts practice.
Over the course of our research, we will implement a series of studies and experiments that involve eco-sensing, data acquisition, augmented reality, spectographs, transcriptive writing, contextualized vocalization and performance in order to highlight the dynamics of breathing in metaphorical and actual senses.
Potential experimental contexts of our laboratory include:
*voiced breath: inhalation/exhalation: not one without the other: contextual practices of connection, voicing voicelessness, exploring contemporary and ancient modes of arts practice predicated on an awareness of the breath and body work.
*digital air: charting the invisibility of breath, visualizing, seeing into, and exposing circulating opacities in the atmosphere, breaking down and building up the molecular structures of electronic, architectural and textual corpuses.
*political air: measurement and mapping of ambient air, poisoned air, radiation, magnetic and electric fields, and unseen particulate matter, developing exploratory, forensic, and critical arts methods of engaging with air as elemental consciousness.
* infiltration: acknowledging the interrelation of these three main lines of enquiry towards our ongoing collaborative project
Image: "North" section. Electronic text sample from Caroline Bergvall’s collaborative performance Drift (2014). Generated by Thomas Köppel.