The Breath Festival is a one-day event run by artists and scientists in Oxford
The Breath Festival is a one-day event run by artists and scientists in Oxford

Asif Haque (Flickr)

What does King Lear tell us about breath?

Matt Pickles

People involved in arts and sciences around Oxford are joining forces to hold a festival on the theme of breath and breathing next Saturday (1 November). The one-day Breath Festival comprises events, talks, performances and exhibitions in venues across Oxford.

Oxford University will curate a series of free 'Breath Talks', a series of TED-style short presentations by academics and artists on all the ways in which breath speaks to us. Dr Emma Smith, a Shakespeare expert at the University, will talk about King Lear and the relationship between language, performance and breath. Dr Kevin Hilliard of the Modern Languages Faculty will talk about the ways in which 18th Century German poems enact heavenly breathing patterns in their verse.

During the day Oxford University's museums will put on special displays, performances, tours, talks and children's activities concerned with breath.  Visitors can also take 'Breath Tours' of the Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers throughout the day. The Museum of Natural History will host a session of singing activities led by Singing for Better Breathing, a local Sound Resource project encouraging people with respiratory problems to sing.

In the evening two performances of a new composition, Breathe, will take place at the North Wall Arts Centre. Breathe was composed by Orlando Gough, having been developed through research with John Stradling, Emeritus Professor of Respiratory Medicine at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust. The composition marks the tercentenary of the death of Dr John Radcliffe, who generously donated the funds to enable the building of the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford’s first hospital.

Professor Abigail Williams, an English academic at Oxford University, said: 'The Breath Talks are an eclectic and inspiring collection of talks from experts in many different disciplines. From King Lear to wind turbulence, devotional verse to Inuit breath music, they will explore how breath has been thought about, illustrated and performed throughout history.'

Lucy Shaw, Manager of Oxford University Museums partnership, said: 'Oxford University Museums are really delighted to be part of the Breath Festival.  The activities, performances and displays, which make up the festival, bring together original work and thinking of artists, scientists, academics and curators in order to inspire, excite and inform our audiences.'

The Breath Project has been developed by artlink, the arts programme for Oxford University Hospitals Trust, in conjunction with Oxford University’s Humanities Division, Oxford University Museums, Oxford Contemporary Music and Singing for Better Breathing. It is supported by ORH Charitable Funds, The Radcliffe Trust, a Wellcome Trust Arts Award and Arts Council England.