Breathing in Disaster: Meditation in the Anthropocene

Hello everyone and welcome

My name is Amanda, I’m an artist, designer, and concerned individual

Today, I’d like to take you on a journey I call Breathing in disaster: meditation in the anthropocene

This journey explores our relationship to the air, and how our bodies and creations participate in the shared history held in the atmosphere of our earth

I’d like everyone to take a moment to get comfortable

If you’re standing, find a seated position where you can relax

And take the weight off your tired feet

Allow them to rest now on the ground

Rotate your shoulders in circles

Now close your eyes

Take a moment to focus on your breath

Allow yourself to center on the action of taking air into your body

Breathe in through your nose

And out through your mouth

Feel the air fill your lungs, and listen to the sounds you make

Feel the oxygen circulating through your body

With every breath it nourishes your heart, your muscles, your brain

You breathe in 23000 times per day, isn’t that amazing?

Breathe in

Breathe out

The air you are breathing is the same that all of us are breathing

Humans, animals, trees, cars,

It’s ancient, and holds the history of life on this planet

A history your body is sharing now

With each inhale you take in 21% oxygen 79% nitrogen and trace amounts of other gases

With each exhale you put out carbon dioxide, water vapor

Warm breath

In the beginning the the earth was so warm

Hydrogen and helium came from our infant planet

Those tiny atoms were so excited they escaped that the pull of the earth and drifted into the void of space

Our atmosphere was born as an exchange between the earth and the sky

4.5 billion years ago before life here was even a twinkle in the stars

The earth started breathing through massive volcanic eruptions

Sending carbon dioxide into the atmosphere

Just like you

Each earth-shaking eruption let out more gases into our atmosphere

Gases which were previously hidden deep in the crust of the earth

Burst out

Ammonia, methane, water vapor, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide

Shooting into the sky in great dusty clouds

A great exhale from the earth

This exchange still happens today

But we are rarely prepared

in 2010 the great volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted

Filling the sky, the atmosphere, our breathable air once again with ash

Ammonia, methane, water vapor, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide

Our bodies crave oxygen, we find the rest toxic

Breathe in

Breathe out

After the volcanos calmed and the earth cooled

Water vapors from the atmosphere settled and became our oceans

Cool, wet, calm, trapping carbon dioxide in their depths

At this moment is where we first find traces of life

Microscopic algae and bacteria created a process called photosynthesis

They transformed the excess carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen

The oxygen you are breathing in now

Tiny photosynthetic bodies grew into larger ones

As more complex flora developed over millenia

Building the atmosphere is an ongoing collaborative effort

Started by the earth

And cultivated by algae, bacteria, fungi, fauna, flora

And yes, even you

Our bodies aren’t the only way we participate in these atmospheric exchanges

Our creations, innovations, technology also share the air we breathe

We dig up ancient creatures

And bring them back to life in order to power our technology

We burn them sending billows of toxic smoke into the sky

It dissipates into the atmosphere

Air knows no borders

It’s not subject to geopolitical frontiers as we are

Air doesn’t need a passport to cross a continent

Yet it sees everything, collects everything

Burning forests to make way for livestock

The trees we set aflame are the same ones who are responsible for capturing carbon in the first place

For making room for oxygen in the air

Instead of forests now we have great fields of domesticated animals

Hand picked by us for their flavor

They exhale too, the same as us, carbon dioxide, but sometimes methane too

Now the forests are releasing carbon

The animals are releasing carbon

We are releasing carbon

I want you to reflect on this for a moment

What happens if this perfectly balanced ratio of 21% oxygen 79% nitrogen shifts?

What happens next?

With each inhale I want you to thank the earth

Thank the volcanoes, the oceans, the algae,

For their part

Thank yourself, because you participated too

NowI want you to thank your body

Thank your lungs for pulling in oxygen

Thank your heart for pushing it through your veins

Thank your muscles for using it to carry you to where you are today

Lastly, thank the air for being breathable, for now

I want you to keep breathing

In count to five

Out count to five

And slowly start to wiggle your toes

And then your fingers

Rotate your shoulders in circles

Loosen them

When you’re ready slowly open your eyes

And take one last deep breath

Thank you

(First performed on July 1st 2022).

Amanda Lewis

Amanda Lewis is an artist and designer from Saint Louis, Missouri and currently based in Paris, France.

She is currently a master’s student at ENSCI Les Ateliers in Paris studying Nature Inspired Design. She also works as the coordinator for Parsons Paris’ Galerie D.

She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art, Media, and Technology at Parsons Paris in 2018, where she developed her thesis project on the investigation of air pollution in natural spaces using open-source sensing technology and sonification techniques.

In her work, she examines the intersection of environments and digital technologies through research and artistic practices. Her goal is to discover a tangible and accessible way to comment on, augment, or improve our relationship with nature through technology.

Amanda’s work

Contact Amanda

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