Animating Pneuma: Paul Chan’s ‘Breezies’ and Ancient Philosophy in Vogue

O art swifter than pneuma!

 – Anth. Pal. 16. 54a (epigram on Myron’s bronze statue of the runner Ladas)

‘In his readings about Greek thought, Chan was struck by the word pneuma. “For the Greeks, pneuma, breath, is the same as the word for spirit,” he tells me. “It’s the breath that engenders life. You can’t see it, but it is essential to how we live, and its constantly moving.” The new work he will show at the Guggenheim embodies this notion. Some early stages of it are in the adjoining room, where we go next. At first, all I can see are clumps of what looks like white sailcloth on round black bases, and a great tangle of electric cords. Chan goes over to one of them and flips a switch on the base that activates a fan. Within seconds, the inert fabric comes alive. It jumps up and becomes an elephant’s trunk, moving and swaying in different directions.He turns on another, a grayish-green nylon ghost that grows to twice his height and then drops down and quivers on the floor. A few more join the dance, hilariously animated sculptures that seem to be playing games with one another. The elephant’s trunk cuddles up to Chan, who pets it and says, “Aw-w-w.” He calls them “Breezies”.’

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