Breathing Under Water

In this new, large-scale mixed media series, I am exploring the metaphors and paradox of breathing under water, the meanings of water in our society today, and the inextricability of our human selves from the environment around us. We are fish in water.

This series was sparked by a dream in which I was walking out across the frozen surface of a lake, when the ice cracked and I suddenly fell deep into the dark depths of the cold water. Looking up, I could see the light of the surface above me, but it seemed too far away for me to reach before I would need to take in more air. I didn’t want to drown and so – in the logic of dreams – I said to myself, “Well, you’re just going to have to be able to breathe under water.” I was afraid, since I knew this was beyond normal human capacities. But I inhaled. And I could breathe. I knew I would survive. The surprise, the strangeness were remarkable.

The dream has stayed with me. Now, collaborating with models and using underwater photography, life drawing and painting, I’ve been exploring the ideas the dream embodies: the call to do the impossible against all reason, the life-saving surprise of unimagined and previously unknown capacities and the many metaphors of water as amniotic and life-giving, as potentially threatening in our era of climate change. I am inspired by water, “inspiration” in French meaning “inhalation.”

Post-photographic and post-painting, Breathing Under Water/Inspiration: Eau is work in progress. So far, I’ve been exploring printing options such as those of the Mimaki digital textile printer at Concordia University (now housed within the Textile and Materiality cluster), which allows life-sized printing of digitally manipulated underwater photographs of models, onto painter’s canvas. I am planning for at least five large-scale works. My plan is to pair each textile print of a person breathing under water  with an oversized painted still life of a flower in water.

In the studio with work in progress, the large scale peony image that will pair with the textile print of Véro underwater. Baloo, the poodle, helps. Photo: Kelly Thompson.