The demanding process of creating the 300+ glass breath bubbles for the Catching Your Breath artwork took approximately 8 weeks in total, spread over several months, utilising human breath to inflate and give form to each of the bubbles.
Each bubble began its journey as a small ‘gob’ of molten glass, gathered on a steel blowpipe from an 1150-degree furnace containing a large crucible of liquid glass. After shaping the glass briefly, the artist blew into the pipe’s mouth-piece causing a tiny bubble to form in the glass.
Once cooled slightly, a second layer of glass was gathered over the first and shaped using traditional hand tools and techniques. More breath was then blown into the form to gradually increase its size. This process was repeated until there were up to four or five gathers of glass encasing the bubble, so that it could be inflated to its final size and gently manipulated into its unique breath-like form.
Inflation and shaping required many visits to a re-heating chamber to keep the glass soft and pliable. The bubble was then transferred onto a solid steel rod, or ‘punty’, held on by a small gather of glass. Once attached to the punty the blowpipe was removed, allowing the glassblower to access and shape the small opening which would later become the means by which each breath donor would contribute their breath. Finally, the finished bubble was placed into an oven to cool down gradually overnight.
Whilst the process may sound relatively simple when described here, anyone with glassblowing experience will know that it is far from straight-forward. Managing a large, semi-molten mass of hollow glass on the end of a pipe that must be kept turning, while enduring a great deal of heat, is no small feat. A great deal of skill, experience and stamina are required.
When all the glass bubbles had been blown they underwent various quality control checks to ensure they were of sufficient size and thickness and that there were no abnormal stresses in the glass. Each bubble was weighed and labelled with a number which would later be engraved on its surface, before being carefully transported to Royal Hobart Hospital where the process of filling each one with an individual’s breath began.
Chapter 1: Forming Breath
The making of the 300+ glass bubbles was a collaborative process undertaken in Tasmania at the Poatina Glass Studio by the artist Keith Dougall, colleague Thomas Pearson, and their assistant Zeke Torrents. Together they formed a tight-knit team working many long, hot days to bring each bubble to life.