Why the heartbeat in public space?

“…She may again make herself visible by bringing back the power of perceptibility.”

 -The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 3.21, as translated by BKS Iyengar


It is not the seeking of information, the seeking of products, the seeking of prolonged life, the seeking of nourishment, the seeking of comfort, the seeking of the right-of-way, the seeking of validation, power nor speed, that this exhibit will satisfy.

This project is an act of making something that is dimly perceived perceivable, because doing so is useful, applicable to many spheres, and an experience complete unto itself.

The heart is a common and unique denominator that transcends so many other differentiable signifiers—color, gender, age, nationality, language, experience, socio-economic status, intellectual acuteness, deaf, dumb, blind, limbless, -ness.  To perceive the heart—to feel it beat, to hear it beat, to have your rhythm literally sync with another by being with another’s— is to perceive without question what Paolo Virno deems a relation between “the highest possible degree of communality or generality and the highest possible degree of singularity.” This is one intent of this public space.

To stumble into a public space in which the fact that there is something profoundly shared between us is experienced physically asks us not necessarily to love, but it changes the way we bare witness to each other and to our public actions. How?

When we listen to somebody else’s heart beat there is an undeniable realness to our own and each others singularity and commonality. Physiologically, listening to someone’s heartbeat has the same effects on the nervous system as looking someone in the eye. It dampens our stress response and elicits behavior conducive to social engagement. And each of us knows this ‘soundtrack’ well; the sound of two hearts beating is an auditory and felt experience first shared by every human on earth. The intimately experienced, continuously changing world shared between a mother and growing fetus is a world of body-stuff, of space, mind, and breath– in short, of non-metaphor realness. Our first shared experience continues to differentiate, until we ourselves are wholly individualized, each of us with our own heart, our own body, our own inner and outer worlds, private and public movements.

Imagine if the case were somehow otherwise, if you had not developed having swam in the current of someone else’s heartbeat. It is such a profoundly important experience—in the development of our body systems, in the setting of our internal rhythms, in understanding and relating to greater natural rhythms outside of ourselves, amongst others–yet we can go a lifetime and never recognize it’s significance. By amplifying the heartbeat in public, we call attention to this ever-present process that is constantly affecting us but is usually ignored.

What are other reasons for bringing our attention to a living heartbeat while in public? Modern public spaces are considered an essential component of sustainable cities, the goals of which focus on uniting a diverse public in social, civic, political, economic and biodiversity activities. “When we think of public space in terms of our embodied presence, it becomes a concept applicable to modern democratic politics,” notes professor James Mensch. In fact, embodiment is a rare element in modern public spaces, and as such our diminished presence while in public in turn dampens our self and civic engagement, as well as our individual development. Why? Having a direct experience of embodiment shifts our perceptions. Where our attention begins and where it is focused effects not only what we notice, but what we think about what we notice, about the meanings we assign to our perceptions and thus the choices we make based on those understandings.

When you focus on your heartbeat, stay focused on it, and then look outward what do you see? What do you feel? What do you think? How have your actions been guided up to now by the physical space and sounds around you? How is public space designed, and what are it’s effects on us physiologically, emotionally? This is different than thinking about an abstract idea of your heart. Though it’s been propagated throughout our culture, recognized, doodled and appropriated more often by habit and by hunch, than through direct knowing, the symbol is of course based on the real, in the living heart. But we tend to forget this. These soundscapes are a reminder.

The physical heart is in fact a double helical form and so even anatomically the heart speaks to this relation between singular and general. Gerald D. Buckberg, M.D. states in “The Helical Heart” :

“The commonality of this double helical form simulates the natural configuration of DNA, reciprocal patterns within flower bed petals, and the double spirals of the galaxy, to form a natural shape theme that now includes a cardiac component. The resultant architecture of the gothic apical loop helix that is surrounded by a horizontal basal loop buttress creates the configuration of a cathedral, like Notre Dame in Paris.”

Soundscape is a movement away from the privatized and toward a shared, innately public knowledge and experience. It’s achieved by the prompting of awareness and sensitivity toward one of the most private parts of ourselves by first listening outward to someone else’s beat. Thus it is only in the shared experience that this public space exists. Through identifying and reflecting what is shared, we are given the opportunity to imagine also what we are not (what/how/who someone else is); this is a practice of loving.

And so it is in this culture, where that which is (the heart), and cannot be attained, that which has been given to us, and is rarely given away, that which is felt, and cannot be denied, that which has been created, and can be broken or destroyed, but that which feels at times so thickly veiled as to be forgotten, so objectified so as to be easily bought and consumed, that I choose to amplify the heartbeat to “again make herself visible by bringing back the power of perceptibility.” – KF 2014