‘Breath of God’ exhibit celebrates art, music and poetry

Bardwell and Crowell’s latest event expresses a divine theological concept through the eyes of Daniel Chang.

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Haven Luper-Jasso

Attendees remove their shoes before entering the “Breath of God” immersive exhibit.

Emily Coffey , Managing Editor

On Sept. 15, “Breath of God,” an immersive exhibit, finally opened after over three years of planning. The event featured live musical performances hosted in Crowell Lansing recital hall projected onto three areas of the inside of the Bardwell exhibition space with some conceptual pieces. The most intriguing part of the performance, however, was the very center, where surface speakers and microphones hung on a three-fold paper divider.

THE BREATH OF GOD 

Daniel Chang, Associate Professor of Art, first conceived of this exhibit in 2018 in collaboration with other artists. The idea came from an exhibit that combined both art and music in an immersive way. It took over four years for the idea to come to fruition, which required time and patience from Dean of Fine Arts and Communication Todd Guy. 

“It’s really solely because of the support from our dean, because he’s been incredibly supportive of this project, that it still has life,” said Chang. 

The project is meant to imitate the dissonance a Christian might feel while still separated from Christ. Chang explained that the theological thread that runs from creation to revelation inspired the “Breath of God” exhibit. It is the idea that over time, humanity experiences more and more dissonance as we get further from creation and ultimate truth. It is about the tension one holds when trying to live out a divine truth in a broken world. 

“When we live our lives, and we live and work out sort of this embodied life of faith, the challenge there is like incredible challenges to these truths,” Chang said. “Though they are beautiful, our lives are incredibly broken. And because of that, we begin to lose contours of the truth, just because the embodied experience is so challenging.”   

Equally important to Chang is the way that this exhibit honors his Asian-American identity. At the front of the exhibit, guests are asked to take off their shoes as one would in an Asian household. The three-fold paper room divider is meant to emulate the room dividers often featured in Asian-American households, on which a dual speaker-microphone device is placed. The speaker will play what the microphone gathers from each successive performance, making each performance less and less detailed, an echo of the last. 

A SOUNDLESS PERFORMANCE

Both Crowell Hall and Bardwell gallery filled with barefooted students, alumni and family supporters for the live poetry reading and musical performances, featuring Associate Lecturer of Music at Wheaton College Leo Altino, Associate Professor of English Chris Davidson, Associate Professor of Violin and Chamber Music and Area Coordinator of the Strings Department Elizabeth Ann Larson and Keyboard Area Coordinator Li-shan Hung. 

Attendees sat on small floor cushions and watched the performance, which was projected onto three separate walls. The dynamic and engaging work featured both musical performance and poetry readings by senior English major India Long and Davidson. 

The performance started late, and the audience only saw part of the show since the last segment of the production cut out abruptly, leaving guests in silence as the musicians grew more and more animated on the projected screen. The only evidence of the music was what guests could see, not what they could hear.  

However, as guests looked around in bewilderment, no staff member got up to fix any of the sound equipment. When the performers bowed noiselessly, the guests filled the void with applause. The musicians left the stage without a sound and Chang broke the silence after many minutes of attendees watching the empty stage in what felt like a holy moment, making no apologies for the technical difficulties. 

“[That was good because] you had to experience that longing and awkwardness,” Chang explained. 

The exhibit will continue to play seven more times, growing more and more distant with each performance.

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