November 4, 2020

The Politics of Respiration: Breathe…Breathe Again…Breathe Better

Sozita Goudouna

The paper takes as a starting point the “shortness of breath” derived from the experience of political pressure, social injustice and economic austerity, exploring its connection with performance/live art and embodied politics. Air, the most necessary and common of all living resources, becomes a material signifier for the invisible political bonds that constitute a society. At the same time, in the realm of artistic representation the concept of Combat Breathing aims to engage with the perceptual and political imaginary of the beholders and to provide the potential of public engagement with breath, so as to encourage multiple perspectives on health, art and life, and so as to establish original methods of understanding the role that respiration plays in our  aesthetic, sensory, emotional and spiritual life.

The atmosphere is but one manifestation of the external structuring conditions of our existence, while breathing is an internal structuring condition. Even small changes in earth temperatures dramatically affect oxygen levels, behavior, reproductive patterns, activity and movement. These often unconscious, unnoticed and invisible human and non-human biological processes are the barometers of social and political expression of freedom. The “inability to breathe” and social “breathlessness,” as well as notions like “settler atmospherics” and “socio-atmospherics of power” (Simmons) are considered in the context of post-COVID-19 contemporary art practice. The socio-atmospherics of power affects our bodies, but also non-human or more-than- human creatures while climate justice is drastically extended to a multispecies justice.

Through the presentation of art practices, strategies and artworks on the theme of respiration, the presentation examines the ways the recognition of the current “shared vulnerability” and the aesthetic “collaborations with the atmosphere” can respond to environmental mourning and provide social opportunities. Humans deoxygenate ourselves and other species, nevertheless, the metaphor of respiration can hold the potential for expanding climate and social change discourse in politically and ethically creative ways.


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Sozita Goudouna

About Sozita Goudouna

*Dr. Sozita Goudouna is a professor, curator and the author of “Beckett’s Breath: Anti-theatricality and the Visual Arts” published by Edinburgh Critical Studies in Modernism released in the US by Oxford University Press. According to William Hutchings’ review, Goudouna’s book is “surely the most ever said about the least in the entire history of literary criticism.” She holds a PhD from the University of London on art and respiration. Her internationally exhibited projects include participations at Performa Biennial in New York, Documenta, Onassis Foundation Festival, New Museum, Hunterian Museum, Benaki Museum, Byzantine Museum, EMST Contemporary Art Museum among others. She is head of operations at Raymond Pettibon Studio and visiting professor at City University New York (CUNY) and New York University. She is researcher at the Organism for Poetic Research supported by New York University and Brown University and has taught from 2015 at New York University as the inaugural Andrew W. Mellon Curator fellow at Performa Biennial in NYC. Prior to joining Performa she was the three year artistic director of the 1st EU funded research and exhibitions program in Athens under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture. During her directorship, she curated and commissioned projects by Martin Creed, Santiago Sierra, Lynda Benglis, Roy Ascott and has collaborated in 2014 with Marina Abramovic for the production of “Seven Deaths.” She is the founding director of the US non-profit “Greece in USA” for the promotion of contemporary Greek art. Sozita served as treasurer of the board of directors of AICA Hellas International Art Critics Association and as member of the board of directors at ITI International Theatre Association, UNESCO.