In and out and in and out...
What do you do every single day of your life? If pressed I could rattle off the obvious ones: have a morning cuppa; spend 10 minutes looking for some clean underwear; get frustrated that I can’t remember the periodic table when ‘Pointless’ is on – but there’s something else that we all do, and it’s something that largely passes us by: breathing. Thing is – because I’m sitting writing this – I’m actually really concentrating on my breathing now and it feels kind of weird. (And look: you’re doing it now.) That slow in-and-out sensation is the one constant in my life. It was the very first thing that I did when I emerged into the world and there will come a day when I must take my very last breath, too (hopefully not before I’ve seen the final series of ‘Better Call Saul’).
The ‘Catch Your Breath’ exhibition at the Palace Green Library is based on research from the Life of Breath project, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust, and is being carried out by researchers at Durham and Bristol University. The project focuses on breath and breathing – how it feels to breathe and the amazing things that our breath allows us to do, such as sing, make music, play sport, yoga, meditation, etc.
Among the highlights of the exhibition will be two newly commissioned artworks. One is a communal music instrument called ‘Ohmerometer II’, which has been created by Helen Collard and Alistair MacDonald; the other is a combined design and musical work called ‘Sleep Songs’, created by the artists Stefanie Posavec and Miriam Quick. The works are created from data collected from the artists’ breathing patterns as they slept.
I’m particularly looking forward to seeing some of the films that will be shown including one from Roundhouse Productions in Newcastle who have made a short documentary about a fella who has become one of the region’s best-loved buskers: the beat-boxing Spiderman. If anyone knows about breathing then it’s him. At the other end of the spectrum is a diver who swims under ice with – get this – no oxygen support. Oh my! Directed by Ian Derry it details some of Johanna Nordblad’s incredible feats.
Of course pollution plays a big part in the quality of our breathing. In October the UK’s leading health professionals called on the government to implement the biggest shake-up of air quality legislation for 60 years in an effort to tackle the country’s growing air pollution crisis. The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change says that the poor quality of the stuff we breath contributes to an estimated 40,000 deaths each year in the UK. The exhibition will cover some of the big contemporary issues such as air pollution and smoking, and also look at the effect that traditional industries like coal mining have on lung health. There will also be a focus on people who are affected by breathlessness, often because of lung diseases. There will be information on how it feels to be breathless and the impact it has on people’s lives, as well as what is being done to help people who suffer from breathlessness.
There will be plenty of items on display including historic stethoscopes, anaesthetic masks and inhalers on loan from the Royal College of Physicians of London, as well as sculptural works from artist Jayne Wilson.
And there will be a pair of shorts, too. Yep, shorts. But not just any shorts. These shorts are on loan from extreme athlete Wim Hof (which is a great name for an extreme athlete). Known as the Ice Man, Wim has developed a breathing technique that allows him to complete incredible feats such as climbing Kilimanjaro wearing only these shorts. (I bet he doesn’t wear a coat when he goes down the Bigg Market.)
There will be lots of opportunities to find out about your own breathing, including exercises and games to try out, and there will also be a series of events and activities happening around the exhibition, including weekly chair yoga and meditation classes (check their website, below, for details).
This Christmas, don’t forget to breathe.
Catch Your Breath, until 17 March, Palace Green Library, Palace Green, Durham, free. dur.ac.uk/palace.green