“At first it was abstract – and then it was personal.”

POST 4: The Heart Library Project

The Heart Library Project is a form of participatory design that has been exhibited over the last decade across Australia and the world. George Khut is an academic, artist and interaction designer working within UNSW Art & Design. Produced initially to be viewed in medical contexts at hospitals or research facilities, the design invites users to lay on a bed or platform and attach a small pulse sensor to their ear. The installation records changes in heart rate and pulse of the individual and uses this data to modulate the colours and patterns projected on a screen that hangs above the individual. The design is an instrument for exploring the way we can choose to understand they way our physical responses are attached to our mental and emotional state. Users are invited to explore the way they can voluntarily shift our nervous system responses through choosing to think and do that which relaxes them, through deep breathing, mindfulness, body and muscle awareness or simply thinking about moments or memories that are personally related to calmness. Users can then also try to increase their heart rate and therefor change the colour and pattern visualisations in front of them by focusing on stress, tension and excitement.

This design is inspired by biofeedback treatment, which is a growing area of research in the medical field particularly surrounding issues of mental illness. Biofeedback involves using electronic monitoring of the bodies functions in order to train an individual to acquire control of said bodily functions. Biofeedback can be used by psychologists in order for patients to become mindful of their bodies natural responses to anxiety or stress and be able to more easily control these responses and learn how to encourage relaxation.

“At first it was abstract – and then it was personal.”

“What really interested me was that if I had a thought that was self-critical – then all the dots went red – then when I said ‘I accept myself’ – it all went blue. I thought ‘how quick is that!’ …Just knowing that I’m capable of big things …and at the moment I’m dealing with a life-threatening illness – so that’s important for me – that I’m actually capable of stepping into another realm as well.”

-Transcripts of interviews with exhibition visitors at St. Vincent’s Public Hospital, Darlinghurst

The data is visualised in an extremely beautiful way, using our socialised attitudes toward shape and colour to allow us to understand emotions, for example cool, calm and soft movements and colours are used when the used is relaxed, and fast, hot and harsh colours and and shapes appear on the screen when a fast or irregular heart rate is recorded. What is so interesting about this project, is that it allows users to visualise seemingly abstract emotional responses and see their stress and anxiety as a more tactile entity. George Khut is encouraging us to be mindful of our own bodies and see the connections between our physical presence and our cognitive processes that is such an huge part understanding the state of our mental health.

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Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, George Khut introduces The Heart Library Project at GROUP THERAPY, Vimeo, Video viewed 22 August 2016, <https://vimeo.com/123634239&gt;.

Khut, G., 2007, The Heart Library Project, Group Therapy: Mental Distress in a Digital Age, viewed 21 August 2016, <http://www.georgekhut.com/portfolio/the-heart-library-project/&gt;.

Scanlines., 2010, The Heart Library Project, Scanlines Media Artist Database, viewed 22 August 2016, <http://scanlines.net/object/heart-library-project&gt;.





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