Skip to main content

‘The Secret’ & ‘To Breathe’

by Jade Westerman, Exhibition Project Officer

Not only has the summer brought us sunshine, it’s brought about a celebration of art and wellbeing across the country with Creativity and Wellbeing Week (10-16 June 2019) from the Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance and Durham’s Summer in the City art festival. At the Royal College of Physicians in London, Phoene Cave held a workshop and talk Singing for lung health: balancing the biomedical with the musical on the benefits of singing for those with chronic lung disease, such as COPD and asthma.

Back in Durham on Thursday 13 June, Life of Breath and Durham & Derwentside Breathe Easy support group members, friends and family came together to celebrate the work created through poetry workshops facilitated by Catch Your Breath Writer-in-Residence Christy Ducker. The poems touched on sensitive themes like stigma and past trauma, responses to objects in the Palace Green Library Catch Your Breath exhibition, and how it feels to live with chronic breathlessness. If you follow our blog, you may have read some of the moving pieces previously posted by Christy from the Breathe Easy group workshops throughout the year. 

As part of her output, Christy collaborated with North East photographer and filmmaker Kate Sweeney to create two short films: The Secret – a piece written by Christy reflecting on the Life of Breath research, and her interactions and conversations around stigma and invisibility of individuals experiencing breathlessness; and To Breathe – a showcase of poetry featuring members of the Durham & Derwentside Breathe Easy group (you can read Christy’s post about working with the Breathe Easy group here). You can view both of these films below or find them on the Life of Breath YouTube channel.

Keep checking our blog for Christy and Kate‘s conversation about how they created these two short films.

The Secret

Produced by Kate Sweeney and Christy Ducker.

The Secret responds to the hidden nature of breathing difficulties, and the tension that comes from exposing them. The words personify a breathing condition; the film investigates further what shape secreted things might take. In close-up to fingers and hands, the camera hums and breathes along the skin.In the split screen, a solitary pixel is exploded, much as a secret revealed can obscure context while it clarifies itself.

Commissioned by the Life of Breath project.

To Breathe

Produced by Kate Sweeney. Poetry from workshops facilitated by Christy Ducker with Durham & Derwentside Breathe Easy support group.

In To Breathe, six women with breathing difficulties express their relationship to breath. They each hold a hand mirror to offer a fragmented part-portrait of themselves to the camera: their identities have become defined by their breathing. The stark black and white imagery alludes to the internal, unseen world of the lungs. The film is both visceral and abstract, supporting and creating space for the powerful imagery expressed in the poetry.

Commissioned by the Life of Breath project.

About Christy Ducker

Christy Ducker is a poet and teacher of creative writing. Her first full-collection Skipper was published in 2015, and includes work commended by the Forward Prize judges. Her pamphlet Armour (2011) was a PBS Pamphlet Choice. 2 further pamphlets – Heroes (2016) and Messenger (2017) – have since followed. Her commissions include residencies with Port of Tyne, English Heritage, Edinburgh Surgeons’ Hall Museum, and York University’s Centre for Immunology and Infection. Christy also devised and directed North East Heroes, an archives and education project funded by Arts Council England. Christy has recently been working as a research fellow on poetry and health at Newcastle’s Institute for Creative Arts Practice.

About Kate Sweeney

Kate Sweeney is a visual artist who has been working in participatory settings for several years. She graduated from Northumbria University with a BA in Fine Art in 1999 and went on to complete her MA at the same university in 2009, achieving a distinction. Kate is currently undertaking a fully funded REA (Research Excellence Award) PhD exploring video practice in literary archives at Newcastle University. Her studio practice is based in the Star and Shadow Cinema in Ouseburn, Newcastle. Personal website:

Leave a Reply