Take a deep breath and hold it. Did you know that when you breathe in your lungs take in billions upon billions of air molecules? Now breathe out.
Breathe in. Along with air, each lungful you inhale contains the detritus from our indoor environments: fibers, vapors, tiny airborne insects and their excrement, viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Breathe out.
Breathe in. Do you realize that chemical fumes from the objects around you escape into the air, are drawn into your lungs, dissolve across your alveoli membranes and into your blood? Breathe out.
Breathe in. The air you just inhaled has already passed through ducts encrusted with a grimy, gray, microbe-infested fuzz of debris, hair, dust, and fiber particles released by decaying building materials. Breathe out.
– Classroom exercise for children published by the Environmental Protection Agency; paraphrase of Tchudi, “Lesson Plan on Indoor Air Quality” (1993)1
In the language of building ecology, ventilation is anatomized as an immune system. Silica dust, off- gassing construction materials, and other hazardous irritants circulate through its ductwork. When a sick building’s immune system breaks down, these materials assimilate across the respiratory systems of its users in an act of architectural, and infrastructural, infiltration. With every breath the room collapses into the lung: flooring folds onto itself, siding cracks open like a jigsaw puzzle.
“Don’t let dirty air color your world!” 2
What is the texture of a thought? “Weird air” buffets the limits of the phenomenal. During an episode of brain fog, the articulations of the sensory field fall away as thinking becomes viscous, slow, wooly with debris. These pre-conscious experiences––the so-called bodywork of chemical sensitivity––are like unthought knowns, barely describable but deeply felt.
1Stephen Tchudi, “Lesson Plan on Indoor Air Quality,” EPA Journal (Oct./Dec. 1993): 42-43.
2“Kid’s Air,” AirNow, United States Environmental Protection Agency, AirNow.gov.
Amelia Farley (b. 1994 Berkeley, CA) and Henry Osman (b. 1993 New York, NY) live and work in New York. They have previously organized exhibitions together at Free Paarking, St Louis and Alyssa Davis, New York and online via their project inparadi.se (2017–2019). They have also participated in projects individually at Oslo 10, Basel, and Preteen Gallery and Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, among others.