Torkwase Dyson, Notes on sound: Pavilion 2021 Mixed media on 140lb. paper 9 inches x 12 inches (C) Torkwase Dyson, 2021 Photo: Torkwase Dyson.

Sound Gallery: Breathtaking: On Black Beauty and Other Necessary Indeterminacies by Torkwase Dyson

Sound Gallery is a new podcast series made up of artists’ audio commissions. Each of these asks us to listen actively and consider how we navigate the world. In this episode, we hear a work by Torkwase Dyson which embodies breathing as an intimate connection to the environment, and as a spatial and political act.

In anticipation of the Back to Earth exhibition and the 2022 Serpentine Pavilion opening in June, we’re launching Sound Gallery by releasing four commissions which were part of a public listening and events programme at the 2021 Serpentine Pavilion, designed by Sumayya Vally of Counterspace. At the Pavilion, Torkwase Dyson’s Breathtaking: On Black Beauty and Other Necessary Indeterminacies was presented as a spatial test and accompanied by drawings the artist had made in response to – and as an extension of – her own breathing. The sounds of this mark-making are woven into the work alongside archival recordings of bodies breathing in order to speak, sing and protest, and the textural sounds of Dyson’s own inhalations and exhalations.

Dyson is interested in the politics of Black bodies and their right to breathe. This work was created in an era where we have limited and unequal access to clean air, when the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately affect communities of colour, and when asserting Black peoples’ right to breathe is central to resistance against police brutality. Through her sound commission, Dyson constructs a soundscape of refusal, improvisation and precarity.

Breathtaking: On Black Beauty and Other Necessary Indeterminacies is also Dyson’s contribution to Back to Earth, Serpentine’s ongoing, multi-year project which responds to the climate crisis in collaboration with over sixty artists, thinkers, designers, and scientists. The commission is informed by Dyson’s long-term thinking around liquidity as a concept through which to explore environmental concerns. Other commissions from Back to Earth – including artist-led tools and campaigns – can be experienced at the project exhibition this summer, and through previous Serpentine Podcasts.

Sonic Description

For each of the sound commissions within Sound Gallery, Serpentine has worked with a sound artist to commission a written sonic description. For Torkwase Dyson’s Breathtaking, Hannah Catherine Jones has written a text-based translation of the piece.

Click the box below to download this as a PDF.

The sonic descriptions are part of ongoing research into how our programme can be more accessible to D/deaf and low hearing audiences. Research is conducted within Serpentine’s Access Working Group.

Torkwase Dyson, Notes on sound: Pavilion 2021 Mixed media on 140lb. paper 9 inches x 12 inches (C) Torkwase Dyson, 2021 Photo: Torkwase Dyson.
Torkwase Dyson, Notes on sound: Pavilion 2021 Mixed media on 140lb. paper 9 inches x 12 inches (C) Torkwase Dyson, 2021 Photo: Torkwase Dyson.

Hear Torkwase Dyson discuss the work with Sumayya Vally and Natalia Grabowska

About Torkwase Dyson

Torkwase Dyson (b. 1973, Chicago) describes herself as a painter working across multiple mediums to explore the continuity between ecology, infrastructure and architecture. Dyson’s abstract works are visual and material systems used to construct fusions of surface tension, movement, scale, real and finite space. With an emphasis on the ways black and brown bodies perceive and negotiate space as information, Dyson looks to spatial liberation strategies from historical and contemporary perspectives, seeking to uncover new understandings of the potential for more liveable geographies. Dyson received a BA from Tougaloo College in 1996, a BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1999 and MFA from Yale School of Art in painting/printmaking in 2003. She lives in New York and is represented by Pace Gallery.

About Hannah Catherine Jones

Dr. Hannah Catherine Jones (aka Foxy Moron) is a London-based artist, scholar, multi-instrumentalist, broadcaster and DJ (BBC Radio/TV, NTS – The Opera Show), composer, conductor and founder of Peckham Chamber Orchestra – a community project established in 2013. Jones recently completed her AHRC DPhil scholarship at Oxford University for which the ongoing body of work The Oweds was presented as a series of live and recorded, broadcast, audio-visual episode-compositions, using disruptive sound as a methodology of institutional decolonisation and was awarded with no corrections. Dr. Jones has lectured, performed and exhibited widely internationally, and recently showed Owed to Diaspora(s) at NIRIN – 22nd Biennial of Sydney.


Torkwase Dyson, Breathtaking: On Black Beauty and Other Necessary Indeterminacies (Spatial Test With Drawing, _001), 2021 was commissioned by Serpentine for Back to Earth, Sound Gallery, and Serpentine Pavilion 2021 designed by Counterspace. It was curated by Rebecca Lewin and Kostas Stasinopoulos and produced by Holly Shuttleworth.

2021 Serpentine Pavilion sound commissions were supported by L-Acoustics Creations, and presented at the Pavilion in L-ISA Immersive Hyperreal Sound.

Sound Gallery is produced by Reduced Listening.

Torkwase Dyson discusses her work with Sumayya Vally, architect of the 2021 Pavilion, for Frieze Breakfast at Serpentine, 2021. Photo: Talie Rose Eigeland.


Discover 50 years of the Serpentine

From the architecture pavilion and digital commissions to the ideas marathon and the General Ecology programme, explore 50 years of artists, projects and exhibitions.

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