Last Breath

Last Breath is an installation designed to store and circulate the breath of a person forever. The piece consists of a small brown paper bag which inflates and deflates automatically thanks to motorized bellows similar to those found in artificial respirators in hospitals. The apparatus hangs on a wall and is activated 10,000 times a day, the typical respiratory frequency for an adult at rest, including 158 sighs. Each stroke of the machine advances a digital counter that beeps. The breath circulates between the bellows and the paper bag through a ribbed transparent plastic tube that emits a faint and hypnotic low sound. The tube can be as large as necessary to either hang the bag right beside the piece, on the same wall, or to create a labyrinth on the ceiling of the exhibition that ends with the bag suspended in the middle of the room. The brown paper bag makes a rhythmic crushing sound as it inflates and deflates. As a biometric portrait, the piece requires careful curation, and the question of who gets stored should be in itself an interesting debate. The portrait should work as a living memorial of a senior respected artist, ideally a poet, singer or dancer. A small video of the person blowing into the bag is exhibited beside the apparatus.

The first copy of the piece stores the breath of Cuban singer Omara Portuondo. The piece is currently on tour but eventually will be exhibited by the National Museum of Music in Cuba: after she dies people will be able to visit her "Last Breath" there. The second copy of the piece has the last breath of American composer and accordionist Pauline Oliveros. Other recordings are currently being negotiated.

Frequently asked questions:

1: Whose breath is stored?
Whoever the collector or curator wants, in discussion with the artist and the subject. It is possible to also have two people blow into the same bag and thus preserve their mixed breath.

2. How long will the project work for?
The mechanism will need light maintenance after a long period of continuous operation. The maintenance includes changing the brown paper bag and greasing the mechanism, simple tasks that are explained in the manual of the piece. During maintenance, the piece stores the breath in the bellows so that it does not escape.

3. Can the breath be changed in the future?
Yes, if the collector or curator no longer want to store the breath he or she can refill the bag with the breath of a new person. Simple instructions to accomplish this are explained in the manual. The symbolic implications of this exchange should be carefully considered.

4. Is there a way to silence the piece?
The quiet sound generated by this piece is an integral part of the work. One may, however, unplug the piece from the wall to turn it off and silence it (the breath will be retained and the counter will not be reset).

5. Is there a prefered installation configuration?
The apparatus should be hung on a wall with its centre at 150 cm high. Other than that the collector or curator may do as they please with the tube, keep it all short and rolled on the same wall as the piece, extend it over the same wall as the piece, or hang it from the ceiling.
Name in spanish: Último Suspiro
Year of Creation: 2012
Technique: Motor, bellows, plexiglass, digital display, custom circuitry, arduino processor, respiration tubing, brown paper bags
Dimensions: Apparatus 60 x 27.5 x 23 cm, tube up to 15 m long. Weighs 8Kgs
Edition: 6 copies + 3 AP
Keywords: indoor, sound, robotic, recorder, biometric.
Photo library (click to expand)

Exhibitions

Credits

  • David St-Onge - Programming and hardware
  • Guillaume Tremblay, Pierre Fournier and Sebastien Dallaire - Production support



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