Making the invisible visible (1)

Sarah McLusky, Project Manager (Durham) writes:

What is breath? We all know what it feels like. We can perceive the rise and fall of the chest, the air moving in and out of our lungs, but unless it’s a frosty morning, we can’t see it. As well as being unseen, most of the time our breath is taken for granted, invisible. Perhaps the only time we pay attention to our breath is when we make demands of it – to speak, to sing, to power the body through exercise. We also become intensely aware of our breath, or rather the lack of it, when it isn’t working as it should, perhaps through illness or anxiety. The rest of the time our lungs quietly, imperceptibly, carry on with the business of keeping us alive, an invisible poem.

Invisibility is also a powerful metaphor for those with respiratory illness – their hidden symptoms, the gaps in our understanding, the lack of effective treatments, the stigma associated with breathlessness, the invisible suffering.[1]

Tackling this literal and metaphorical ‘invisibility’ is one of the main aims of the Life of Breath project. By exploring breathing and breathlessness from a number of different perspectives the Life of Breath project is tasked with ‘making the invisible visible’ (see ‘There is something in there‘).

Following on from the Bristol launch in May, Life of Breath at Durham University will be formally launched on Wednesday 23rd September 2015. In the splendid gothic surroundings of the Joachim Room at the College of St Hild & St Bede, a number of diverse project collaborators will share what breath means to them. First we will hear from Miriam Johnson, from Hull York Medical School, an expert on palliative care. Then artist Jayne Wilton will outline her work on visualising the breath. Durham colleague Charlotte Roberts will consider what human skeletal remains can tell us about breathlessness in the past, while fellow academic Peter Garratt explores the breath in literature. Finally James Edwards and Gaynor Williams, members of the Darlington Breathe Easy patient support group, will share what it is like to feel breathless.

These speakers will be framed by moments of reflection, breathing spaces if you will, encounters with the breath made visible through spoken work, sound and music.

Anyone with an interest in the project is welcome to join us at the event, although places are limited. If you would like to attend please register at

[1] Carel, H., Macnaughton, J., Dodd, J. (2015) Invisible suffering: breathlessness in and beyond the clinic, The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, 3(4): 278-279.

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Jess is the Bristol project manager for Life of Breath. She is also a freelance proof-reader, copy-editor, indexer, teacher and writer.


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