Inhale, Exhale: The LED Sphere that Lights Up Your Breath

Noémie Jennifer, Vice Magazine, July 13, 2015

When the Fridman Gallery in downtown New York B-Reel the opportunity to exhibit work, the interactive design studio put staff ideas to a vote. The overwhelming winner came from Mike Potter, one of B-Reel's art directors, who pictured a breathing sphere of LEDs with a viewer positioned at the center of the installation, triggering patterns of light and color with every inhalation and exhalation. The site-specific piece, entitled Prana, is based on Potter's daily meditation practice, and quite literally brings to light the invisible energies of our bodies.


"It's amazing to us now how much the final installation resembles his initial idea," remarks the creative team at B-Reel. "At that time, we had very little idea how we were going to build it." After creating a 1:1 simulation environment of the gallery space and sphere, the team began testing a variety of available input methods to recognize and track the viewer's breathing. They eventually settled on the Xethru, a single-chip radar sensor that detects the small movements of the viewer's chest as they take in air.


The final, room-sized installation is 12' in diameter and counts 13,221 LED lights inside 5,422 feet of acrylic tubing. One by one, participants stand inside the suspended sphere and communicate with a seemingly sentient technological being that glows and colors the room with each of their breaths. Throughout the exhibition, the Fridman Gallery has scheduled a series of sound and spoken-word performances that further explore this dialogue between humans, technology and the environment. The roster includes a duo of cyborgs, a composer who plays stringed instruments through electronics, and a Duet for Scuba and Saxophone, to name just a few.