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Putting the Human in Interactive Art

by Ethan Tussey

by Liza-Anne Cabral for IN MEDIA RES

In the fall of 2008 Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer took over Madison Square Park in New York. From Oct. 24th – Nov. 17th he set up what was called Pulse Park, a matrix comprised of 200 light beams that focused on the center oval field of the park. The intensity of the beams was controlled by a sensor measuring the systolic and diastolic heart rate of participants. The result was a stunning, symbolic visualization of individual vital signs on an urban scale.

Upon having one’s heartbeat sensed the 200 beams of light would transform into a synchronized pulse, reflecting the participant’s heartbeat in perfect melodic harmony. This musical unity was part of Lozano-Hemmer’s overall reasoning behind Pulse Park: he wanted to translate the beautiful syncopation of multiple hearts beating into a visual element. To do that he took something private and unseen and turned it into an amazingly public, shared experience for a fleeting moment. This synchronicity would end when the participant removed their hands from the sensor, causing the lights to go into a state of dissonance: flashing the last 200 user’s heartbeats all at once.

The outcome is a poetic expression of individual vital signs (the thing that makes us human), which transform this public space for a brief moment into an epicenter of architecture, light, and movement. But it is a space that is merely meant to be stumbled upon, reveled in, and then left behind. And it is this idea that is the biggest draw for interactive public art: being able to participate in something in the moment but yet leave a part of yourself behind upon your disappearance.

Really, though, Pulse Park – like so many other works of digital interactive public art – was about the people and the human connections we make. The lights (heartbeats) worked together as a sort of celebration of these short-lived and fleeting moments we all have. It created a connective environment, rather than a collective experience among participants. It created a space to meditate on the interpersonal, the things that really connect us all.

Pulse Park 2008

A video of the public art exhibition Pulse Park in 2008

from Pulse Park (2008)
Creator: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey