Reading group: Breath, Wednesday 16 November 2016

The Birkbeck Medical Humanities Reading Group aims to create a space in which academics, clinicians and students can come together to explore key readings, ideas and materials in the field of medical humanities. Our endeavour is to find ways of talking across the different disciplines of the humanities and medicine, and we welcome participation from colleagues interested and engaged in these areas.

Our next session explores the theme of breath, and also continues our engagement with the recent publication The Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities, recently introduced by the editors Anne Whitehead and Angela Woods at a lunchtime lecture at Birkbeck.

We will be reading a chapter from the Companion by Jane McNaughton and Havi Carel on breathing and breathlessness in clinic an culture. McNaughton and Carel lead the Life of the Breath project, a five year Wellcome-funded research project examining historical, philosophical, cultural and anthropological aspects of breathing and breathlessness. We have also selected two audio pieces of different uses of breath in singing and vocal performances as well.


  • Jane McNaughton and Havi Carel, ‘Breathing and Breathlessness in Clinic and Culture: Using Critical Medical Humanities to Bridge an Epistemic Gap’, in The Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities, ed. by Anne Whitehead and Angela Woods (Edinburgh University Press, 2016), pp. 294-309. An open access version of the text can be found by following this link (chapter 16)
  • Paul Capsis & Michaela Burger, from new production of Rumpelstiltskin (composer: Jethro Woodward), Adelaide Festival Centre: please find link here
  • Bjork, studio version of ‘The Pleasure is All Mine’ from Medulla (2004): please find link here.


jayne-wilton-headshot-2015We are also very pleased to welcome visual artist Jayne Wilton, who will introduce her work which explores the breath as a unit of exchange between people and their environments. Her practice uses darkroom processes with drawing, photography, video and sound to capture the usually invisible trace of breath as it moves across a surface. She graduated with an MA from The Slade School of Fine Art in 2010 and has shown extensively in the UK and abroad. Previous collaborations include working with Physicist Peter Hobson at Brunel University during a Leverhulme funded residency (2012). During 2014 she was awarded an Arts Council Grant for the Arts to work with Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospital NHS Foundation Trust to visualise the breath of staff and patients with COPD. Jayne is also collaborating with the Life of Breath project team. She was commissioned in 2016 by The Respiratory Lancet to create the Journal’s Covers for 2016. Examples of Wilton’s work can be found on her website.

We will meet on Wednesday 16 November, 3-4.30pm, in the Keynes Library, Birkbeck School of Arts. 43 Gordon Square WC1H 0PD.

For further details please contact Heather Tilley.

For more information about travelling to Birkbeck School of Arts, click here.

For details of previous sessions, please click here.

Corkscrew, a network for practise-based/led research students at the School of Art, will also be presenting Breath Catalogue on Monday 14 November, 2-5pm. Breath Catalogue is a collaborative work by artist-scholars Kate Elswit and Megan Nicely, and data scientist/interaction designer Ben Gimpert, together with composer Daniel Thomas Davis and violist Stephanie Griffin. The project combines choreographic methods with medical technology to externalize breath as experience. Further details and booking information can be found here.

Lead image: Jayne Wilton,  Breathe, breath etched into copper plate 10×12.5 cm.


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