Putting the Human in Interactive Art

Curator's Note

In the fall of 2008 Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer took over Madison Square Park in New York. From Oct. 24th – Nov. 17th he set up what was called Pulse Park, a matrix comprised of 200 light beams that focused on the center oval field of the park. The intensity of the beams was controlled by a sensor measuring the systolic and diastolic heart rate of participants. The result was a stunning, symbolic visualization of individual vital signs on an urban scale.

Upon having one’s heartbeat sensed the 200 beams of light would transform into a synchronized pulse, reflecting the participant’s heartbeat in perfect melodic harmony. This musical unity was part of Lozano-Hemmer’s overall reasoning behind Pulse Park: he wanted to translate the beautiful syncopation of multiple hearts beating into a visual element. To do that he took something private and unseen and turned it into an amazingly public, shared experience for a fleeting moment. This synchronicity would end when the participant removed their hands from the sensor, causing the lights to go into a state of dissonance: flashing the last 200 user’s heartbeats all at once.

The outcome is a poetic expression of individual vital signs (the thing that makes us human), which transform this public space for a brief moment into an epicenter of architecture, light, and movement. But it is a space that is merely meant to be stumbled upon, reveled in, and then left behind. And it is this idea that is the biggest draw for interactive public art: being able to participate in something in the moment but yet leave a part of yourself behind upon your disappearance.

Really, though, Pulse Park – like so many other works of digital interactive public art – was about the people and the human connections we make. The lights (heartbeats) worked together as a sort of celebration of these short-lived and fleeting moments we all have. It created a connective environment, rather than a collective experience among participants. It created a space to meditate on the interpersonal, the things that really connect us all.


I love being introduced to this project. Not only because it allows for something so personal and deeply internal to be read and re-expressed so very publicly, and not only because it is a work of art that indiscriminately allows anyone to contribute to its creation, but also because, as Liza-Anne Cabral states, "it is a space that is merely meant to be stumbled upon…and then left behind." This possibility for accidental participation serves to further humanize the overall piece.

I really enjoy this work and enjoy, even more so, the participant's within the space. It is intriguing to me to see them interacting with the work without realizing that they are completely controlling the work and how they are actively controlling the work. I am fascinated to see that the viewer's/participant's actively engage with and without the knowledge of the projects specific triggers … yet, as if by intuition, each participant seems to understand the nature of the event.

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