Akihito Ito and Issey Takahashi: SyncDonII, 2015, interactive new-media installation

“The heart of the person before you is a mirror. See there your own form.” — Shinto saying

It’s a powerful, visceral experience to feel the life force of another, pumping warm and steady as you hold them in your arms. But there’s something slightly disturbing, although fascinating, in the idea of actually holding another person’s heart in your hands as it beats. SyncDon II, a research project by Akihito Ito, a lecturer at Chukyo University and researcher at Nagoya City University in Japan, and Issey Takahashi, a researcher at Nagoya University, approximates such an experience. Ito is an artist and designer working in new media, and Takahashi is an engineer whose interests include biomedicine and human-computer interactions. Their project draws on current research into bio-synchronization, a phenomenon that occurs when a heartbeat, in sympathy with that of another, syncs to the same rhythm. “Emotion is hard to be depicted,” Ito and Takahashi write in a project statement. “It easily gets unfocused when it is verbalized, because emotion felt in our body is abstracted when it becomes a word.” Their solution was to find an alternate means of depicting emotion — by locating it outside the body and by describing it not in words but by using tech-based media.

The SyncDon II is a device that records the rhythm of your heartbeat and collects it in a gift-wrapped box that then pulsates with the recorded beats. SyncDon II is an audiovisual installation. The user is outfitted with specially designed earbuds that read pulse waves while he or she holds in their hands the pulsating box, feeling the beat of the person who was there before them. The heartbeat in the box and the participant’s own heartbeat are visualized in a digital display monitor, where each heartbeat, seen as small circles, is depicted in real time, coming into sync with one another. As they do, the two circles merge into one, mirroring the actual syncing occurring inside the body at that very moment. The syncing is induced not just by sound but by visual cues as well, such as strobing flashes of light timed to the beats, and the tactile sensation of holding the throbbing box. According to its creators, the SyncDon II experience results in circulatory changes in the body as it acclimates to a new rhythm, and participating in the installation can bring about unexpected emotional responses that also affect heart rates and, thereby, get recorded, too. “The reason why the gift-box is used as an indicator of the heartbeat is because it is a metaphor of a ‘gift,’ ” they wrote. “A receiver gets emotion as a gift from someone in the past through heartbeats. Then the receiver becomes a sender of [an] emotion he/she had, and gives to others.” Their premise is that the synchronization leads not just to matching the rhythms of the body, but to empathy, the ability to share in the emotional life of another, to feel what they feel. Their hope, they wrote, is that “the project will bring us entirely new sensations that we have never experienced.”

SyncDon II, an audiovisual installation, is on view at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe from Friday, June 10, to June 26.

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