My paper “Drawing of Breath: a provisional diagram for the reciprocal relations between atmospheres and affects” has been accepted for the upcoming Interstices conference “Moved: On Atmospheres and Affects” which is to be held in Auckland, New Zealand from November 22–24. Gernot Böhme will give the keynote presentation. Further details are available on the Interstices website.
From a young age I have always enjoyed exhaling into the cold dry air of wintertime and delighting in how breath, made visible, dissipates into the wider atmosphere. Evidence of the atmospheric differences within and without gives rise to wonderment, and in turn, a will — to the point of hyperventilation — to create more and more breath-clouds. This play of breath is an example of the distinctions between affects and atmospheres and their reciprocal folding together. The commonplaceness of breathing offers productive ways of understanding the remaking of self and environment and their ambiguous inter-relationship. The act of breathing is an intimate, energetic exchange between the world and our bodies; sustaining us, it is also a distributed act of collective connection. To breathe in is to draw the world inwards, to take in its forces and to draw sustenance from it. To breathe out is to expel something very personal into the public domain, where others may in turn draw it inwards in a constant process of exchange. Absorbing and being affected by diffuse, ephemeral qualities of space, means making sense of atmospheres and affects requires understanding bodily engagement.
Numerous art and architectural projects make specific use of breath as a motif or modus operandi, two of which I will examine in detail. A discussion of Decosterd and Rahm’s Hormonium will focus on how the drawing inwards of atmospheres via the respiratory and endocrine systems creates internally registered bodily affects. The second project, Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s extension to the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, emphasises the registration of breath as a collective act in the public sphere. They see the project as making visible the “air of democracy,” via an inflatable public space for lectures and discussion. These projects, while using breath in quite different registers, build on an understanding of bodies and environments as being intertwined, if still separable. This condition of being together-but-separable is explored in Ben Anderson’s essay Affective Atmospheres. I similarly investigate the always in-process nature of atmospheres in this paper, drawing conscious attention to the process of breathing as a specific mechanism for becoming aware of the interrelationships between affects and atmospheres, bodies and environments.