Invisible Dust

London | Tuesday 15 October
Pollution level: Moderate

Dryden Goodwin Houses of Parliament 12

© 'Breathe' Dryden Goodwin, photo from St Thomas' roof, commissioned by Invisible Dust, 2012

A major new artwork by artist Dryden Goodwin was shown from the roof of St Thomas’ Hospital, London every evening until 28th October 2012 as a large scale outdoor video projection, shown above, exploring how air sustains us but also insidiously corrupts and damages our young.

NEW FOR MOBILES: the Breathe mobile web app can be downloaded at:



Projection times: 6.30pm-12.00

Dates: 9th-28th October

Location and best view: Westminster Bridge,  SE1 7HY.

Dryden Goodwin created a series of expressive pencil drawings, which, when combined and animated, showed a young boy (head and torso) progressing through fluctuating breathing patterns, at some moments regular, and at others more laboured as he stared out from the frame.

The act of breath embodies the transcoding of air – from the ethereal to solid, the invisible to the concrete, the fluid to the dense.  Breath, animated by the vibrations of billions of airborne molecules, floating particles and fibers of the human body, is an elemental poetry: it is one of the most beautiful encounters between living bodies and the living world.

Dryden Goodwin’s Breathe is an evocation of this poetry.  He created over a thousand drawings of a five year old boy (his son) inhaling and exhaling air.  But their most startling quality is their ability to evoke the materiality – the heaviness – of the invisible.  In Goodwin’s works, air is not unremarkable, transient or still.  Rather, air is an object that permeates the human figure, carrying with it the incredibly diverse and even harmful residues of the city of London.

Historically, artists such as Monet and Turner painted the visible air pollution (previously from coal) from the same vista over the Thames. Modern air pollution is invisible and is produced mainly by vehicles.  Goodwin’s work is also a reflection on the presence of air and atmosphere in the English creative tradition.

London’s Air Quality

Breathe takes a critical perspective on London’s air quality. London is one of the most polluted cities in Europe despite air pollution having a visible noted effect on health. Official studies show that air pollution – mainly from traffic – causes more premature deaths than passive smoking and traffic accidents combined, at a cost of about £2bn a year.

London has consistently failed to meet targets and timetables to reduce both the quantity of soot in the London air (known as PM10s) and of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a gas emitted mainly from burning diesel fuel. In April 2011, London had already peaked at 36 days of bad air quality exceeding the 35 day limit of the whole year.

NOWCAST- Check out the air pollution in your area!

If you live in London insert your postcode and you will see today’s pollution levels (interactive map courtesy of London Air) As you zoom into the map you will see which areas are currently experiencing higher pollution levels than others, usually those areas close to busy roads.

Breathe was created through a collaboration between Goodwin and eminent air pollution scientist Professor Frank Kelly (King’s College London), who chairs COMEAP, a Government medical advisory committee on air pollutants, and leads a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London Biomedical Research Centre-funded study ‘Exhale’, examining the implications of the Low Emission Zone on the lung health of eight year olds in East London. Professor Kelly’s research has raised many questions about the effects of air pollution to children’s health.  His studies show that poor diet will exacerbate the harmful effects of air pollution on children living in cities such as London.

Air Pollution and children

The child’s torso in Breathe emphasizes the physicality of the act of breathing and draws attention to the vulnerability of children whose developing respiratory system is most at risk from pollution.  It references the figure of the child throughout art history, used as a timeless and universal emblem of youth and innocence, notably in Michelangelo’s ‘The Marble Boy’.

House of Commons Breathe talk, hosted by the Environmental Select Committee (EAC) discussion with Dryden Goodwin, Professor Frank Kelly and Joan Walley, MP, EAC Chair, took place on 16th October.

To see the education programme linked to Breathe, please click here

Breathe is part of ‘Invisible Breath’, a series of artists commissions by Dryden Goodwin, HeHe and Faisal Abdu’Allah to UK exploring air pollution and breathing air. Breathe is produced by Invisible Dust curated by Alice Sharp and is supported by The Wellcome Trust, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity and Arts Council England.