Case Study: Charged Hearts and Cybernetic Interactions

Vis 159 Case Study: Charged Hearts by Catherine Richards (in collaboration with Martin Snelgrove)

I have always found great interest in art pieces that involve the interaction of it’s viewers as a part of its display. For this reason, I really enjoyed this week’s reading especially when I came across the Charged Hearts installation by Catherine Richards. In this piece, there are two glass hearts that are able to “communicate” their heartbeats to each other through a design in which the observer lifts one of the glass hearts to basically pulsate to each other using a magnetic terrella, as shown in the picture below.

A terrella is basically a nineteenth-century lab apparatus that utilizes magnetism to replicate rhythms, in this case the “beats” from the hearts.

As a person lifts one of the glass hearts, the plasma gas within the heart causes a reaction to make the glass heart glow and pulsate. Then with the helped of charged ions and the terrella the second heart is able to pulsate in reaction as well. The whole installation can be shown in the image below.

To the left and right of the terrella are the glass hearts.

According to Richard’s website on the project she writes, “these glass objects become part of ourselves and part not.” In essence, this art installation is almost as if someone is holding a live heart. By holding these pulsating hearts, the observer is given the ability to connect cybernetically and sort of intimately to a body part symbolically known for its association with feelings and emotions. Still, the part that this installation does not become a part of ourselves is the realization that this is in fact just an art piece that undergoes a chemical reaction and relies on the person’s actions to start the process.  In this way, the project is sort of dehumanized back to mere objects interacting through a chemical reaction.

I think that this project is important to our current culture existence in that it brings into perspective the more common interaction between humans and artificial intelligence. It allows humans to interact with a bionic system in an intimate way through the involvement of one’s sensory observations.

This relationship reminded me of the post-human movement that was also talked about earlier in the reading. This movement believes that science, technology, and cultural history have brought us to the point where we will become “post-human.” In becoming post-human, one utilizes technology such as genetic engineering, bionics, and cybernetics to create a sort of super human so to speak. This movement involves a good amount of experimentation that can fall under the ethical debate on body experimentation. Is the process of experimenting with one’s body in a possibly harmful way with the use of technology bad even if it’s one’s own body? Many questions like these are brought up during this debate with ethics and experimentation for the post-human movement.

Now in relation to Charged Hearts, the interaction of hearts, an important body part, and their connection to biotechnology, and the terrella, can sort of be seen as an entity to the post-human movement. It also brings up issues with the interaction of the human body and technological situations: when does a project like this cross the lines of becoming non-ethical with the use of human body parts and the enactment of human system processes?

— Dahlia Dominguez



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