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Pulse Park


On a Friday evening in Madison Square Park, you can register yourself at a kiosk. But, instead of giving your name, in the case of ‘Pulse Park’ you register your heartbeat. ‘Pulse Park’ is an installation of artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and is inspired by the 1960’s Macario. In this film, the protagonist hallucinates that every person on Earth is represented by a flickering candle. This idea inspired Lozano and in ‘Pulse Park’ ‘you see the remains of people who have left their hearts behind’ (1).

The use of light in or even as an artwork is not something new. In traditional visual art, light was often used as a source for illumination. Electronic media facilitate the liberation of art from conventional stasis and provide a means for it to consist of light itself (2). As Otto Piene says on his artwork ‘Light Ballet’: ‘my endeavour is a twofold: to demonstrate that light is a source of life which has to be continuously striving for larger space. We want to reach the sky. We want to exhibit in the sky, not in order to establish there is a new art world, but rather to enter new space peacefully – that is, freely, playfully and actively, not as slaves of war technology’ (3).

    ‘‘Pulse Park’ is comprised of a matrix of light beams that graze the central oval field of Madison Square Park. Their intensity is entirely modulated by a sensor that measures the heart rate of participants and the resulting effect is the visualization of vital signs, arguably our most symbolic biometric, in an urban scale. Visitors to Madison Square Park have their systolic and diastolic activity measured by a sensor sculpture installed at the North end of the Oval Lawn. These biometric rhythms are translated and projected as pulses of narrow-beam light that will move sequentially down rows of spotlights placed along the perimeter of the lawn as each consecutive participant makes contact with the sensor’ (4)


Two years earlier, the artist made a similar artwork named ‘Pulse Room’. This room is an interactive installation consisting of one to three hundred clear incandescent light bulbs, which are 300 W each and hung from a cable at a height of three meters. The light bulbs are distributed over the exhibition room, filling it completely. An interface placed on a side of the room has a sensor that detects the heart rate of participants. When someone holds the interface, a computer detects his or her pulse and immediately sets off the closest bulb to flash at the exact rhythm of his or her heart. The moment the interface is released all the lights turn off briefly and the flashing sequence advances by one position down the queue, to the next bulb in the grid. Each time someone touches the interface a heart pattern is recorded and this is sent to the first bulb in the grid, pushing ahead all the existing recordings. 


  2. Edward Shanken, Art and Electronic Media, p. 16.
  3. Otto Piene, Art and Electronic Media, p. 198
  4. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, 2008