Art, like prayer, is always an expression of longing. Wendy Beckett

Keith Dougall: Catching Your Breath

ArtWay Visual Meditation September 28, 2021

Keith Dougall: Catching Your Breath

Breath is Life

by Rod Pattenden

Those entering the Royal Hobart Hospital (in Hobart, Tasmania) each day do so with a variety of reasons that range from the mundane to the more pressing issues of life or death. It is an entrance way marked by fear and anxiety, as well as compassion, kindness and love. Perched high above these anxious concerns in the vast space of the atrium are seven large nets containing what seem like bubbles or spherical glass balls, floating as if on an invisible sea or cloud of air. This installation is the work of glass artist Keith Dougall, who has worked with hundreds of staff, patients and visitors as well as a team of technical assistants to create a work that invites an instant sense of compassion and empathy entitled ‘Catching Your Breath’. Installed in 2020 this public art project engages the viewer with a profound sense of delight and playfulness. Set within this vast entry lobby its clear sense of wonder is enough to take your breath away.

The work has an immediate impact and lifts the eyes of the viewer up into the space to consider its construction and to foster curiosity about its meaning. Keith Dougall is an experienced glass artist with a considerable body of work, from individual art glass pieces to major public commissions. As a glass blower who uses his own breath to form work out of molten glass, he has extended his practice to incorporate the breath of others as the basic metaphor explored by this work. When each glass bubble was formed in the studio, they were provided with a small entry hole, where later patients, family members and staff were invited to supply their own breath. After this the work was finally sealed up. The overall installation consists of these bubbles as containers for this gift of life.

The artist explains: “The work symbolises the fragility and resilience of breath and life. The suspension of the work is a metaphor for the support and care that staff and family provide the patient, lifting them up in their time of need.” Behind the stunning presentation of the work high above the heads of those who enter the hospital lies a complex process of manufacture and preparation that amplifies the work’s achievement as a community arts project. As people filled each vessel with their breath, many of their stories were recorded on video and became part of the documentation of the work through a dedicated website. One therefore takes in the work and the history of its formation as a part of a whole process based in compassion and understanding. It is a representation of the nets of connection that surround individuals as they come into the hospital environment, where every breath and every heartbeat is closely monitored.

The breath of life is metaphor strongly present in the Christian tradition. We remember that God forms creation through the agency of breath and breathes life into the clay of creatures, including that of human beings. This fundamental connection was clearly in the mind of the artist who works each day breathing life into inert glass forms that become vessels of delicate fragility and profound beauty. Perhaps this is the role some artists are energised by, through breathing life into material things, through imagination and transformation remaking the world into a habitation for wonder and human kindness. This work is one of embodied spirituality and community connection that successfully celebrates the role of a health care institution and the fundamental human values of love and compassion that lie at the heart of all healing and wholeness.


Keith Dougall: Catching Your Breath, 2020, suspended sculptural form incorporating the breath of 300 patients, visitors and staff of the Royal Hobart Hospital (Hobart, Tasmania, Australia), sealed into individual unique glass breath bubbles and suspended in seven woven stainless steel nets. Further information about the project ‘Catching Your Breath’, including video of its manufacture and installation, can be accessed at

Keith Dougall is an Australian artist working mainly in glass. He is a graduate of the Canberra School of Art Glass Workshop. Using a variety of techniques he makes individual studio pieces, architectural glass, and large-scale public art commissions. He lives in Poatina, Tasmania where he has developed the Alethea Mountain Retreat Arts Centre and public access glass studio. He is a teacher and mentor and is involved in a number of community arts initiatives in Tasmania, including Poatina Arts. He is interested in the links between creativity and spirituality, and the sacred nature of life often finds expression in his work. Further information about the artist is found at:

Rod Pattenden is an Australian art historian and theologian interested in the power of images and the manner in which they work in the context of spirituality and religion. He is minister of the Adamstown Uniting Church in Newcastle, Australia, where he has developed a vibrant community arts program.



1. ANSELM SOCIETY COURSE ON INTEGRATING THE IMAGINATION – How does imagination affect the way I discern? parent? work? Does it affect my faith? my reasoning? How does it work? The Wisdom of Possibility develops the outlines of a detailed theology of the imagination. We will consider the purpose and scope of the imagination in human thinking, its role in the life of faith, its relationship to reason, and the rules of its unique way of thinking and envisioning the world. Building on excellent reflection by G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Hans Urs von Balthasar, John Paul II, and others, we will develop a constructive account of the imagination that re-unifies human thinking and facilitates viewing the world with wonder and admiration, conditions that are necessary for worship. Saturdays, 9:00 - 11:00 am Central Time. October 2 – December 11, 2021 (Thanksgiving Saturday off). Registration Deadline September 30, $500 per student. Read more and register

2. PLACES OF WORSHIP THAT HAVE REVOLUTIONISED ARCHITECTURE – Throughout European history, the best architects of their time were commissioned to build the best construction projects of their time, which usually ended up being places of worship. Most of the architectural styles throughout history began on religious heritage buildings. FRH (Future of Religious Heritage) put together some of the top religious heritage sites that revolutionised architecture by inspiring similar buildings or even new forms of architecture. Read more

3. MACEDONIAN MEDIEVAL CHURCHES IN PERIL – In this article Pance Velkov, director of the Makedonia Foundation in North Macedonia, examines the county's rich religious heritage sites dating back to the Byzantine era and the valuable works of art they contain. Unfortunately, this heritage faces many challenges such as poor management, a lack of resources, and environmental issues. Examining in detail a few selected sites, Dr Velkov emphasises the importance that they have to Europe's religious heritage as well as the urgency of the need to protect them. Read more

4. GULER ATES AT THE ROYAL ACADEMY – Guler Ates has been selected for the Royal Academy of Art’s Summer Exhibition in London, UK, a celebration of contemporary art and architecture, running run from September 22 to January 2022. From icons to the up-and-coming, find the art you love from over 1,300 works selected by coordinator Yinka Shonibare and a panel of artists, under the theme of ‘Reclaiming Magic’. More info and reserve your ticket 

5. JOHN SKILLEN ON WORKS OF ART IN THE WORK OF THE CHURCH – 16 October, 18.30 – 21 h, Horst Family Home, [address will be emailed to ticket holders], Crownsville, MD: John Skillen: The works of art in the work of the church. Organized by The Eliot Society. In recent decades, a growing number of Christians—even those from church traditions formerly suspicious of the arts—are warming up to the idea that artworks can serve in the various practices of the life of faith, and not only in iconographic form as images of Jesus in worship. Scripturally sound and aesthetically sophisticated works of art can guide our prayer, help catechize our children, and shape the environments of our missional work. Many of us will welcome some pointers for putting art back in its place in the settings where we live and work. To help us imagine possibilities, John Skillen will offer examples from a long period of Christian history when the arts were put to work in the collective life of the church in more places and in more ways than most of us nowadays can imagine. Not only churches but also hospitals, orphanages, the meeting rooms of parachurch organizations, baptisteries and bell towers, dining halls and cloisters in monasteries, town halls and civic fountains and public squares—all were places of serious decoration and design expected to be compatible with Christian faith. No sphere of religious and civic life was off-limits for imagery able to instruct, to prompt memory, and to inspire emotion and action—the three functions of art most commonly cited during the Middle Ages to defend its value. Dr. John Skillen (PhD English, Duke University) taught medieval and Renaissance literature at Gordon College before serving as the founding director of the college’s arts-oriented semester program in Orvieto, Italy. Skillen directs the Orvieto-based Studio for Art, Faith & History and its program of seminars, retreats, conferences, and projects in theater and music. This is a free living room event and space is limited.

For more exhibitions, lectures, conferences etc., click here

ArtWay is a website with resources for congregations and individuals concerned about linking art and faith.


Other recent meditations:
- October 2021: Edward Knippers: The Sacrifice
- October 2021: Sane Wadu: Bless This Our Daily Bread
- October 2021: Mary’s Chapel in Loppersum
- October 2021: Zak Benjamin: Locomotive

For more Visual Meditations, see under Artists