Blow Up (2005)

Blow Up records, amplifies, and projects human breath into a room-sized field of wind. The installation comprises two devices. The first is a rectangular array of twelve small impellers, which stands on a table on one side of the gallery. This small input device is electronically linked to a large wall of twelve electric fans. The tabletop impellers are spatially and temporally synchronized to the fans in the wall. When a “sender” blows into the first device, “receivers” experience the magnified breathing patterns over their entire bodies. When he stops blowing, the wall continues to play back the most recent breathing pattern, captured in an amplified loop, until someone inspires a new pattern.

In the physical world, we become aware of our bodies through transactions with other phenomena: we hear our voices via the vibration of air, we see our faces via the bending of light. Breath too is as essential attribute of one’s person, whose existence we only infer through other media: the sight of our chest rising and falling, the sound of air rushing into our sinuses, the disturbance of the atmosphere near our skin. We mentally label this evidence-of-breath as “my breath”. Yet what distinguishes ”my breath“ from mere air and, further, what distinguishes my breath from me?

Blow Up’s simultaneous processes of recording, translation and amplification is meant to increase the breath’s salience and legibility, while detaching the breath from the body that allegedly produced it. The process of observing this translation and translocation of respiratory activity may prompt the sender to consider the connection between one’s person and the air it exchanges, and, more broadly, the existence of any self independent of the air signaling its presence.

Commissioned by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco. Produced with the generous support of Animatics Corporation.

Exhibition History

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (solo show), San Francisco, 2005
Ars Electronica 2006
South Korea Media Art Biennial 2006 


Scott Snibbe: concept, engineering, programming
Brett Bowman: fan wall design and engineering
Michael Wehner: breath console design and engineering
Gizmo Art Production: breath console fabrication
Jim Campbell: custom electronics
Mitsuo Kuroha, Kyle Knobel: production
Lorenzo Wang, Christine Liu: computer graphic visualization
Anne Devine: administration
Mark Scheeff: advisor