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  • Date: 26 August 2009
  • Artform: Visual arts
  • Area: National
Several_InterruptionsSelect the image above to launch Several_Interruptions. Ensure your volume is turned up. The work will open in the same window. Duration: 3 minutes 30 seconds.

Wikianswers says that the average respiration rate for a person at rest is about 16 breaths per minute, so if a person lives to the age of 80, they will take approximately 600 million breaths in their lifetime. Do you feel any different for knowing this piece of information?

It could be said that trying to measure or quantify something about the natural world – say the number of stars in the night sky – can turn it from art to science, from the mysterious to the mundane. We breathe from the moment we are born to the moment we die, but unlike the incremental accounting of birthdays or accomplishments – creative, familial, political, financial – breathing is not something we think of measuring, often not something we even notice. Thought about this way, holding your breath becomes a hiatus in living.

Several_Interruptions, which collages together online videos in which people are seen holding their breath underwater, is both interruption (as its name suggests) as well as documentary, in which the seemingly mundane and numerous has been made back into something unique and original.

Thomson & Craighead have personally chosen, from some 61,000 possible files on YouTube, videos which they have edited together into brief vignettes which interrupt each other sequentially (in time) and laterally (on-screen). Through the artists’ mediation, these amateur videos have been transformed into professional pocket-sized triptychs which make reference to the large-scale, three-screen projection installations of internationally-known video artists.

Their chosen formal constraints (the sound-editing or the way the videos have been scraped from YouTube into another window) cleverly allow the viewer to lose themselves in the footage and engage in plenty of wide-ranging, open-ended symbolism brought out through the found imagery, from baptism to water boarding.

Like most of Thomson & Craighead’s online work, Several_Interruptions has been created using appropriation – employing the process of collage to manipulate existing web-based material. Like their 'Short Films' documentary series, this piece seeks to consider, aesthetically and politically, how information is mediated via the internet, and how users’ behaviours are engendered by online social networks.

What we learn here is first of all that YouTube facilitates competitive posting between its users (each trying to outdo the other with their video responses), and second, that most underwater entrants last between two and four agonizing minutes, taking some 40 or 50 breaths off their 600 million account.

- Sarah Cook, 2009

About Thomson & Craighead

Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead are fascinated about how global communications networks like the web are transforming the way we all perceive and understand the world around us. They live and work in London and Kingussie in the highlands of Scotland and make artworks for galleries, online and sometimes outdoors. Recent exhibitions include: Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Tang Contemporary, Beijing; Dundee Contemporary Arts; Artists Space, New York and BFI Southbank, London.

About Sarah Cook

Sarah Cook is an independent curator and research fellow with CRUMB, the online resource for curators of new media art, at the University of Sunderland. She included work by Thomson & Craighead in her recently curated group exhibition, Untethered, at Eyebeam Art and Technology Center, New York (2008).