“Pimp My Heart” – Self Consciousness in Body/Vehicle Relationships

Pimp My Heart (2006) is a collaborative work by Takehito Etani and David Tinapple, in which the artists created a system called the HBBB (HeartBeat Bass Booster), used to amplify the heartbeat of a car driver in real time. The project is both an invention and an intervention on car technology that transforms the “familiar annoyance” of blaring bass from pimped out cars into heartbeats, exploring the relationship between vehicle/driver and driver/pedestrian (takehitoetani.com).

Illustration of the work and its main components

The heartbeat sensor, silver-plated, heart-shaped box decorated with faux diamonds to mimic “bling”, utilizes a Pic microcontroller and Max/MSP software that, upon detecting the wearer’s heart beat, triggers an audio file of a single heart beat. The heart beat audio is amplified by the car’s high power amp and subwoofers, while transducers beneath the driver’s seat “maximize the haptic sensation” of each beat. A projector installed in the car displays a real-time pulse line, and both exterior and interior lights blink in time with the audio, providing visualizations of the driver’s heartbeat. Additionally, the HBBB system is equipped with a “disco mode” where the BMP of songs (from a list of heart+car-related music selected by the artists) being played by the car will increase or decrease according to the user’s heart rate.

HBBB Interface Pendant

Pimp My Heart was first exhibited and performed at the Regina Gouger Miller Gallery in Pittsburg, then at ISEA2006 in San Jose and the San Jose Grand Prix. The installation portion consisted of parking a customized Chevrolet Cavalier 2003 in the exhibit space, inviting visitors to sit inside and wear the HBBB themselves. A nearby kiosk played a performance video recorded prior to the exhibition, which documents the artists wearing the HBBB while cruising the streets and interacting with passersby. The “Pimp My Heart Party” held at the Grand Prix was a public intervention in which local car enthusiasts took their vehicles (approximately 5 total) on a nighttime cruise while wearing the HBBB. Selected visitors to the exhibit were invited to ride along and test the HBBB as well.

Video documentation of the work’s first exhibition at the Miller Gallery

Etani describes the work as “an ultimate unity between car and driver” achieved by hacking the technologies of the car-pimping hobby “often used as psychological armor” or a “territory-marking tool” (takehitoetani.com). Combining heart-monitoring technology and both visual and auditory representations, the project explores the “vulnerability of human body and emotion,” and our obsession with automobiles and their modification. Overall, the artwork raises questions about the distance or disconnect between individuals in an age of automobiles, specifically in a more contemporary urban context.

If the culture of pimping out one’s car and blasting the bass is “armor” or an expression of dominance as Etani claims, then the project flips this relationship between passenger and driver. Rather than disturbing the passersby, the drivers connected to the HBBB are the ones disturbed as they become self-conscious of their heartbeat being broadcast to the public. This open sharing of the driver’s vital sign, a more personal aspect of one’s body, creates an intimacy between the wearer and the surrounding individuals, normally separated by the automobile. Thus, the driver is forced to think about their presence and the effect they have on their surroundings. Furthermore, the work rethinks the possibilities of heart-monitoring technologies as more than medical tools.  In making the internal become external, such materials can be used to encourage closeness and reevaluation of oneself.

– Dorothy Boyd

Sources: http://takehitoetani.com/hbbb.html , http://takehitoetani.com/hbbb_proposal.html

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