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by Jade Westerman, Exhibition Project Officer

One of the most talked about aspects of the Catch Your Breath exhibition at Palace Green Library (and personally one of my favourite objects) was the Ohmerometer II (2018) created by North East-based artists Helen Collard and Alistair MacDonald (FabLab Sunderland).

Artwork: Miriam Quick & Stefanie Posavec’s ‘Sleep Songs’. Image: John Donoghue

Ohmerometer II was one of three pieces especially commissioned for the Catch Your Breath exhibition by the Life of Breath project using Wellcome Trust funding to draw people’s attention to their own breath. The two other pieces we commissioned were Sleep Songs (2018) by Miriam Quick and Stefanie Posavec and Still/Breathing (2018) by North East filmmaker Matthew James Smith

Helen’s work often draws upon the breath and her experience as a yogi, and this piece is no exception. Located in the ‘Breathing Space’ of the Durham exhibition, Ohmerometer II playfully used the breath to create sounds found in meditative practices to create a relaxing, fun atmosphere in the gallery.

Artwork: Helen Collard & Alistair MacDonald’s ‘Ohmerometer II’. Image: John Donoghue

Exhibitions can be a rather static and silent experience, often relying on visual methods to convey their message. This seemed very contradictory to what we wanted to achieve. As Catch Your Breath is about the experience of breathing and breathlessness, we wanted something that would enable visitors to engage with their own breath, not only in thought but through practice. Ohmerometer II is activated by the breath: the user blows into one or more of the holes to trigger the multitude of sounds specifically selected by Helen and Alistair.

What I find fantastic about Ohmerometer II is that it’s inclusive and communal. Music and the ability to play instruments – especially those that require breath techniques – are so exclusive. For those who don’t feel confident enough to express themselves through music, art, dance or poetry, Helen and Alistair have shown us that our breath can create something beautiful and harmonious. Even for those who can express themselves through different art forms, a lot of practices can be solitary experiences. Ohmerometer II invites group interaction to bring us together through our breath. Its colours and sounds can capture the attention of all, no matter their age or musical ability.

Below is a short film by Jason Thompson of Ohmerometer II in action:

Artwork: Helen Collard & Alistair MacDonald’s ‘Ohmerometer II’. Film: Jason Thompson

Ohmerometer II was repurposed for Palace Green Library’s exhibition Wild: A Celebration of the Natural History of the British Isles (18 May 2019 – 6 October 2019) whilst it awaited transportation to the Catch Your Breath exhibition at Southmead Hospital Bristol in the autumn of 2019.

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