The english language expression, to draw a breath, englobes a bit of mystery, worth investigation.
Inspirare, latin to blow into has given us to inspire, suggesting guidance, revelation, or illumination, or being motivated, much like the french inspirer. But inspirer in french, like the just as commonly used english equivalent inhale, also reminds us … to draw in a breath.
We have been informed and reminded in the past decade of the benefits of breathing, breathing fully, breathing correctly (?) or simply invited to bring our attention to the breath.
The positive effects include triggering the relaxation loop and hence altering the immune system inflammation response. But we have also become recently attuned to the fact that rhythms of breathing affect memory and fear.
As eastern meditation practices have offered their two thousand year old practices to western medecine to study, we inheritors of cartesianism are learning more than we dared to previously imagine about the links between body and mind.
Drawing a breath…
For the artist, breath also means something entirely concrete, in another sense.
Literally draw, pen to paper, following the curve, the cycle of breath –inhale and exhale.
Not unlike the east asian traditions of mindful meditative calligraphic practice, linked also to the breath, here Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat breathes in and breathes out, drawing with the stroke of the breath.
But breathing has also yielded other types of art. There is a contemporary artistic practice harkening back to the prehistoric stencils that have been left to us in unusual places. Lise Bjorne takes her lungs to task as she blows, breathing ash onto paper or canvas, exhaling.
Leaving traces of her breath, the signature of her breath. An expulsion.
Perhaps her work, certainly in its process, is reminiscent of these other ancient practices, suggesting the links between hand and breath, between inside and out, between body and spirit (inspirare).
Traces of pigment, such as below, left by anonymous painters in caverns and caves around the world are equally concrete in making this connection visible. Not incidentally, according to recent studies by archeologists –where research involves close examination of the handprint– the paintings were made mostly by women.