Saturday 18 April, sunrise (5:57 am) – sunset (8:02 pm)
A whitewashed studio in a former fabric-cutting factory was the setting for Marking Breath, a daylong performance by Danish artist Sophie Dupont.
Over the last 5 years Dupont has been working across performance and painting to examine the relationship between body and psyche. From her ongoing series of abstract paintings made on the covers of commercial magazines to wearing an elaborate headpiece to prevent people from walking freely past her, Dupont makes poignant interruptions into the activity of daily life.
In ‘Marking Breath’ Dupont puts the act of breathing – an action that unites us all - at the centre of the work. From sunrise to sunset, the artist sits silently at a table. At each exhale she carves a line into a small metal panel positioned in front of her. This self-contained performance consists of nothing more than a single, repetitive act of recording. Seemingly subtle and simple, this performance is neither; it requires an extraordinary degree of restraint and endurance – a determined act of rebellion against the frenetic, stimulated society in which many of us live.
‘Marking Breath’ is an action first carried out by the artist in 2011 and has been performed 14 times since. Along the walls of the gallery stood a sequence of metal panels documenting some of the previous performances made in different parts of the world; from New York to Seoul, from Mexico City to Copenhagen, this display was the first time the panels have been shown collectively.
‘Marking Breath’ is an ongoing performance to be created throughout Dupont’s lifetime - a moment to stop and silently mark her existence on a given day. Each time it is performed following a strict set of rules; the artist sits stationary through daylight hours and marks lines into a flat sheet of metal, which is subsequently kept as a document of the action. With this in mind, a similarity can be drawn between ‘Marking Breath’ and the date paintings created by Japanese conceptual artist On Kawara, where the latter makes a painting by recording onto canvas the date on which the painting was made. Over 4 decades, until his death in 2013, Kawara made over 3000 date paintings, known collectively as Today (1966-2013). Like Dupont, he observed a strict set of rules, always inscribing the date in white letters and numbers on a monochromatic ground, with each painting made during the course of a single day.
For both Dupont and Kawara, the specific geographical situation in which they make their works is of great importance. For Kawara the country he was in determined in which language the date was written. For Dupont, the architectural or geological surroundings of the place can inspire the size and material of the panels onto which she records. For her performance in Miami – America’s fastest-changing city known for its stark division of wealth and poverty - Dupont chose gold-plated panels, whereas for her 2013 performance at the Contemporary Art Centre Nikolaj, Dupont used copper plates measured to the same dimensions as the building’s copper roof tiles.
For NEW STUDIO Dupont chose sheets of silver, the precious metal found in the deepest mines of the UK. They are the size of a standard postcard, 14.8 x 10.5 cm, linking them to the paraphernalia of written correspondence. Postcards are often written by one person to another, a short message sent while travelling, and here Dupont conceived additional paper postcards for visitors so they could join her at the round table in the ritual of recording one’s own breath. The postcards have now been added to the artwork and will remain in the artist’s archive. Other than this, visitors were given no direction but could sit, stand and use the space as they wished. With the gallery located in a building containing over 30 studios, the surrounding sounds of neighboring creative activity provided a fitting backdrop.