This Artist Duo Is Turning Their Breath Into Gold Sculptures

Elevating the act of breathing from mundane to ceremonial, artists Carlo Brandelli and Ewa Wilczynski are creating sculptures made from single brushstrokes of gold paint in unison with their inhale and exhale.

In 2020, breath was a contentious topic. Not only was it a transmitter of Covid-19, but it became a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter after George Floyd told officers “I can’t breathe” more than 20 times before his death. The intensity of pandemic lockdown caused artists Carlo Brandelli and Ewa Wilczynski to reconsider the act of breathing—a subconscious reflex that humans perform more than 20,000 times per day—and see how they could make this invisible action into something tangible. Without giving it much thought, Wilczynski picked up a brush, inhaled, and painted a downward stroke on canvas as she exhaled. 

That single action kicked off a new series of sculptures, called 1,000 Breaths, that sees the duo follow that same action over the course of—you guessed it—1,000 exhalations using clear gold-leaf resin. After a few months, a gold mound formed out of the layered strokes on the canvas. As a three-dimensional sculpture began materializing from the layers of paint, it became a physical symbol of the artist’s breath. 

“The intention of this work is to show the transference of creative energy into a physical passing of time,” Brandelli says. “Breath is every person’s fundamental life force, and the exhalation of breath is associated with many forms of ‘spirit’ practiced with meditation and physical exercise.” The pair documented their ceremonial process in a series of meditative videos at Volumnia Space, the Italian midcentury design gallery opened by Enrica De Micheli inside a 400-year-old Renaissance church in the heart of Piacenza. 

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