Becoming with Wheat: Photosynthesis/Respiration Collaborations

“The practice of expanding my lungs reinforces the knowledge that I have on that day at least, not contracted the virus” – Amanda Couch, artist

Breathworks invites shared investigations of breathing online. Conceived months before the COVID-19 outbreak by Modern Art Oxford Creative Associate (Digital) Lucy Sabin, the project invites diverse online exchanges about personal and collective relationships to breathing. The result is proving to be both complex and highly revealing.

We first met with artist and researcher Amanda Couch in July 2020. Amanda’s daily ‘breath performances,’ which she posts on Instagram, perform a form of therapeutic outlet for herself and others during the coronavirus lockdown. Discover her story below.

My offering for Breathworks refers to the collaborative performances I have been doing with wheat growing in my garden during the pandemic. Part of a larger project, ‘Becoming With Wheat and Other More-Than-Human Others’ which explores our interspecies relationship with wheat, these actions perform the reciprocal processes of photosynthesis and respiration: the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen. Kneeling over the patch, I take deep breaths for a few minutes each day, recording the actions and posting on Instagram.

Pulling me into the present, the deep inhalations and exhalations have gone some way to ease my anxiety during the current situation. Expanding my lungs reinforces the knowledge that, at this point in time, I have not contracted the coronavirus and has enabled me to leave my flat every day, which during the earlier parts of the lockdown I found very difficult. Constructing a daily activity as a system for my practice, which is bigger than myself and the anxiety I experience, has created the impetus to venture into the communal stairwell, navigate the shared doors and handle surfaces, and engage with the outside world, and companion with my wheat, ameliorating the agoraphobia I was feeling.

My companioning with wheat has enabled me to reach out to other friends, and make new relationships. People have been affected contacting me to share their own difficulties triggered by these extraordinary times. I hope that when people scroll through their feed they might pause amongst the shout and momentarily companion with their own breath. Although unable to gauge to what extent this action has impacted on the wheat’s development, I swear the plants were growing faster and taller where I have been breathing! And it has also triggered me to consider the ethics of collaboration, and whether it can be called so, if an agent cannot give permission in the way that we humans recognise consent. Nonetheless, at a chemical level there are no boundaries between plant and human, we are co-constitutive. The universal process which sustains most life on earth, we are made and re-made by the transfer of carbon dioxide and oxygen between us.

Follow Amanda Couch’s breath project on Instagram or visit her website. 

Do you have a breath story to tell? Take part in Breathworks from 1 August 2020.

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