Air Ways
Glass tanks, air pump, air stone, water pump, LED lights, plastic tubes, sound
Dimensions variable
This work is an extension of the artist’s long-running examination of the act and nature of breath. Departing from the mediums of performance, video, and photography used in her past projects, the artist has created a fountain-like installation of found objects related to the generation and conveyance of air. To represent ‘air’, which is all around us yet mainly invisible, this work necessarily relies on solids and liquids as counterpoints. Still, ‘air’ is something we all corporeally experience: with every inhalation and exhalation, every cough and sneeze, a gaseous exchange of volatile organic compounds goes through the nose and into the throat, lungs, blood, heart, brain.

In the age of COVID-19, a disease that affects our respiratory systems, and amidst widespread pollution, our breaths are also the physical manifestation of the problematics in the atmosphere. The struggle for breathable clean air is a reminder of the interconnection between the internal body and the external environment—no body is a closed system.

Interview with the artist
Q Curators

You've examined the breath in multiple iterations, most notably in your series Topography of Breath. What keeps you returning to it as a subject?

A Pat Toh
As a performance maker, I work primarily with my body as a resource and medium. Breathing is a highly performative physical act articulating the vital sign of life. I engage with the breath—its movements and affects in relation to the body—to investigate the essence of the performer. It is an entry point for me to work from a non-meaning-making approach, and instead create through the somatic connection with inner worlds. In the current COVID-19 pandemic, in which we are grappling with a disease that affects respiratory systems, the issue of breath and breathlessness has become so urgent. Breathing has taken on a different meaning for me, and I have been thinking about the recovery and rejuvenation of breath. Right now I am concerned with the extension of breath, and how we can keep it going even after it has collapsed.
Q Curators

In the work you’ve created for this exhibition, you’ve departed from performance and instead created a physical installation. Why have you decided to use objects as a stand-in for the human body?

A Pat Toh
In devising this work, I asked myself to consider the relationship of my inner experience of breath with my outer environment: things which are not human, but play a role in affecting the quality of the air, my lung health, and overall well-being. I would not say that the objects are a stand-in for the human body, but rather that they are extensions of the body in the way that objects influence our everyday lived experiences. Although I do feel a sense of disembodiment from how I usually work with and perceive the breath, I think that discomfort is a good point to reflect on viewpoints towards the human and non-human dichotomy. What is life like, and what is it not?
Q Curators

Your works often possess a certain deliberate transgression, intentionally infringing upon a viewer’s private emotional space. Why is this so crucial to your practice?

A Pat Toh
I value the intimacy I feel when I am in situations where the social mask falls from control. There is something about that moment when the body leaks and fails which I find deeply touching. In the rupture of this public-private zone, the performance allows a form of unveiling, where a sort of vulnerability is revealed. I hope for the same experience for the viewer, where they can go into a visceral encounter subverting logic and meaning. And by reaching into spaces that destroy comfort zones and social norms, I hope to articulate feelings deep down that may be hard to speak about.


Pat Toh (b. 1981, Singapore) is a performance maker whose practice centres working on, with and about the body. Her work unfolds at the intersection of theatre, sports, and the live arts, and looks to social and personal lived experiences as points of departure. A Shell-NAC Arts Scholarship recipient, she holds a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts (Acting) from the National Institute of Dramatic Arts (Australia), and a Masters of Arts from the National Institute of Education (Singapore). She has presented at the Asian Film Archive’s State of Motion, The Substation, the M1 Fringe Festival, and the Esplanade Theatre Studio. Her work Pretty Things was nominated for Production of the Year, Best Director and Best Ensemble in Singapore’s Life! Theatre Awards (2012).