The heart beat­ing as one

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - — Michael Abatemarco

Ak­i­hito Ito and Issey Taka­hashi Un­cov­er­ing lay­ers Mara Baker

“The heart of the per­son be­fore you is a mir­ror. See there your own form.” — Shinto say­ing

It’s a pow­er­ful, vis­ceral ex­pe­ri­ence to feel the life force of another, pump­ing warm and steady as you hold them in your arms. But there’s some­thing slightly dis­turb­ing, al­though fas­ci­nat­ing, in the idea of ac­tu­ally hold­ing another per­son’s heart in your hands as it beats. SyncDon II, a re­search project by Ak­i­hito Ito, a lec­turer at Chukyo Univer­sity and re­searcher at Nagoya City Univer­sity in Ja­pan, and Issey Taka­hashi, a re­searcher at Nagoya Univer­sity, ap­prox­i­mates such an ex­pe­ri­ence. Ito is an artist and de­signer work­ing in new me­dia, and Taka­hashi is an en­gi­neer whose in­ter­ests in­clude bio­med­i­cine and hu­man-com­puter in­ter­ac­tions. Their project draws on cur­rent re­search into bio-syn­chro­niza­tion, a phe­nom­e­non that oc­curs when a heartbeat, in sym­pa­thy with that of another, syncs to the same rhythm. “Emo­tion is hard to be de­picted,” Ito and Taka­hashi write in a project state­ment. “It eas­ily gets un­fo­cused when it is ver­bal­ized, be­cause emo­tion felt in our body is ab­stracted when it be­comes a word.” Their so­lu­tion was to find an al­ter­nate means of de­pict­ing emo­tion — by lo­cat­ing it out­side the body and by de­scrib­ing it not in words but by us­ing tech-based me­dia.

The SyncDon II is a de­vice that records the rhythm of your heartbeat and col­lects it in a gift-wrapped box that then pul­sates with the recorded beats.

SyncDon II is an au­dio­vi­sual in­stal­la­tion. The user is out­fit­ted with spe­cially de­signed ear­buds that read pulse waves while he or she holds in their hands the pul­sat­ing box, feel­ing the beat of the per­son who was there be­fore them. The heartbeat in the box and the par­tic­i­pant’s own heartbeat are vi­su­al­ized in a dig­i­tal dis­play mon­i­tor, where each heartbeat, seen as small cir­cles, is de­picted in real time, com­ing into sync with one another. As they do, the two cir­cles merge into one, mir­ror­ing the ac­tual sync­ing oc­cur­ring in­side the body at that very mo­ment. The sync­ing is in­duced not just by sound but by vis­ual cues as well, such as strob­ing flashes of light timed to the beats, and the tac­tile sen­sa­tion of hold­ing the throb­bing box. Ac­cord­ing to its cre­ators, the SyncDon II ex­pe­ri­ence re­sults in cir­cu­la­tory changes in the body as it ac­cli­mates to a new rhythm, and par­tic­i­pat­ing in the in­stal­la­tion can bring about un­ex­pected emo­tional re­sponses that also af­fect heart rates and, thereby, get recorded, too. “The rea­son why the gift-box is used as an in­di­ca­tor of the heartbeat is be­cause it is a metaphor of a ‘gift,’ ” they wrote. “A re­ceiver gets emo­tion as a gift from some­one in the past through heart­beats. Then the re­ceiver be­comes a sender of [an] emo­tion he/she had, and gives to oth­ers.” Their premise is that the syn­chro­niza­tion leads not just to match­ing the rhythms of the body, but to em­pa­thy, the abil­ity to share in the emo­tional life of another, to feel what they feel. Their hope, they wrote, is that “the project will bring us en­tirely new sensations that we have never ex­pe­ri­enced.”

SyncDon II, an au­dio­vi­sual in­stal­la­tion, is on view at El Museo Cul­tural de Santa Fe from Fri­day, June 10, to June 26.

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