Activating One Billion Breaths in a Lifetime

Today’s guest blog is from artist Jill O’Bryan, who shot this video shortly after installing her work one billion breaths in a lifetime outside of the Phillips.

The sculpture is of polished chrome, at eye level, and close to the sidewalk so that as you walk by your reflection moves and so does that of the environment with relation to you. The light there is really active because it’s filtered through the foliage, so sometimes parts of the text disappear and then reappear. Your movements animate this text about corporeal motion, embodiment, and time.

 

Jill O’Bryan, artist

One Billion Breaths in a Lifetime

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Installing Jill O’Bryan’s one billion breaths in a lifetime (2015). All photos: Amy Wike

You might notice something new the next time you pass the corner of 21st and Q Streets NW. Installation of artist Jill O’Bryan‘s one billion breaths in a lifetime was completed earlier this week. The text of the 16-foot-wide chrome sculpture is a calculation the artist made while creating a series of drawings recording her own breaths to capture time; it takes approximately 97 years to breath one billion breaths.

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Tools of the installation trade.

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Trimming the supports to the correct height.

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Installing Jill O’Bryan’s one billion breaths in a lifetime.

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Artist Jill O’Bryan assessing placement of her work.

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(left) Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Vesela Sretenovic and artist Jill O’Bryan discuss the work as it’s installed (right) one billion breaths in a lifetime is prepped for final placement.

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The installations team makes sure the work is level before securing the piece at the corner of 21st and Q NW.

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Artist Jill O’Bryan looks on as her piece is installed.

 

Spotlight on Intersections@5: Barbara Liotta

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Barbara Liotta, Crenae, 2014. Lift cord and Italian marble, 120 x 13 1/2 x 4 in. Gift of the artist, 2014. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

The Phillips celebrates the fifth anniversary of its Intersections contemporary art series with Intersections@5, an exhibition comprising work by 20 of the participating artists. In this blog series, each artist writes about his or her work on view.

The Phillips Crenae relies on the balance among its three elements—the formal parallels of the suspending cord, the violence of the shattered marble, and the cascade of cord below. The upper cords breathe but remain plumb, the stone holds the raw energy of the piece, and the cords below bring in grace, lyricism, and chaos. The sculpture is designed to exist in conversation with the space in which it is displayed – it can hang long from high up, or lower so that the cords pool out across the floor.

The strict restraints I apply to my materials are essential. By limiting my materials to the cord and the stone, the work is able to sing out clearly and directly, unencumbered by decoration. Suspension and the promise of movement are fundamental to the piece.

The Crenae were water nymphs, each with her own spring. My piece is not an individual story, but a paradigm, a portrayal of an ideal; it refers to a human archetype rather than a specific story. I strive for a sort of essence: a clarity that will allow the work grace but not prettiness; rhythm but not contrivance; balance but not stiffness. It will animate, as well as inhabit, its space. The work should be as clear as chamber music and as graceful as a dance.

Barbara Liotta