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Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

‘Pulse’ at Hirshhorn Museum, Washingon D.C.

Nov 1, 2018

In the Hirshhorn’s largest interactive technology exhibition to date, three major installations from Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Pulse series come together for the artist’s DC debut.

A Mexican Canadian artist known for straddling the line between art, technology, and design, Lozano-Hemmer fills the Museum’s entire Second Level with immersive environments that use heart-rate sensors to create kinetic and audiovisual experiences from visitors’ own biometric data. Over the course of six months, Pulse will animate the vital signs of hundreds of thousands of participants.

With Lozano-Hemmer’s trademark sensitivities to audience engagement and architectural scale, each installation captures biometric signatures and visualizes them as repetitive sequences of flashing lights, panning soundscapes, rippling waves, and animated fingerprints. These intimate “portraits,” or “snapshots,” of electrical activity are then added to a live archive of prior recordings to create an environment of syncopated rhythms. At a time when biometry is increasingly used for identification and control, this data constitutes a new way of representing both anonymity and community.

The exhibition begins with Pulse Index (2010), which is presented at its largest scale to date. The work records participants’ fingerprints at the same time as it detects their heart rates, displaying data from the last 10,000 users on a scaled grid of massive projections. The second work, Pulse Tank (2008), which premiered at Prospect.1, New Orleans Biennial, has been updated and expanded for this new exhibition. Sensors turn your pulse into ripples on illuminated water tanks, creating ever-changing patterns that are reflected on the gallery walls.

Pulse Room (2006) rounds out the exhibition, featuring hundreds of clear, incandescent light bulbs hanging from the ceiling in even rows, pulsing with the heartbeats of past visitors. You can add your heartbeat to the installation by touching a sensor, which transmits your pulse to the first bulb. Additional heartbeats continue to register on the first bulb, advancing earlier recordings ahead one bulb at a time. The sound of the collected heartbeats join the light display to amplify the physical impact of the installation.

Three short documentaries of Pulse works are also on view, showing the breadth of the series through video footage of various other biometric public-art interventions in Abu Dhabi, Toronto, Hobart, New York, and Urdaibai, Spain (2007–2015).

Curated by Stéphane Aquin, Chief Curator with curatorial assistance from Betsy Johnson, Assistant Curator.

1/11/2018 – 28/04/2019

Hirshhorn Museum, Washington D.C.