Sharing - a beating heart | Leonardo/ISAST

Sharing - a beating heart

By Kathy High
Interior of Old Barn at Djerassi
When I first arrived at Djerassi there was this crazy and wonderful artist / physicist in residence with me, Weidong Yang. He immediately started showing us all his geeky tech toys - whcih I, of course, loved. A fellow geek is always welcomed.

Wei had a blue tooth stethoscope that was hooked up to a small amplifier and then a transducer. You could hold the stethoscope on your chest to listen to your heart, while holding the transducer in your hands and FEEL your heartbeat. It was mesmerizing. Wei and I talked about it - and I suggested that he needed a heart casing to hold the transducer. That one line started us on a great journey and collaboration. 

Wei and I discussed using silicon for the heart. I was game to try that (having never worked with silicon molds before - I felt I was up to the challenge). I also asked for fabric to design and sew a cloth version as well. After a wonderful forray into San Francisco one afternoon we had the products and I started my adventure into heart production.

At first I made a model of the transducer and inserted it inside a clay heart that I fabricated. But we quickly realized that we didn't have enough silicon to make the mold successfully. Luckily, we had purchased the cloth as well - and I designed and sewed the heart (and an extra for backup). I had worked with clay and fabric in my early 20s while an undergraduate sculpture student. Then I had discovered experimental film and I abandoned all that work for years, returing to it about 15 years ago. It was a treat to be able to re-engage with those skills for the heart project.

After much testing we had two functioning units. One was designated to go into the Old Barn with a sign "hold me" to encourage participation. We choose this location because our piece, called "Sharing," was to complement a pre-existing art project in the Barn, "Eclipse" (2016) by Paola Cabal. In "Eclipse" "Cabal had cut names into opaque 'doors' in the Old Barn roof, corresponding to victims of police killings in major metropolitan areas between Chicago and San Francisco." As the light shined through the roof you could read the names of the victims. It was a stunning and moving project. Our continuous beating disembodied heart joined this project in spirit.

Wei found a 24 battery so the piece woudl be powered all day. I found a beautiful log for the stand and base of the piece (expertly chain sawed by staff member Wade Watkins!). We embedded the technology inside - hiding it, beguiling young children! Our heart beat for over 12 hours in the Old Barn during Djerassi's Open House. 

I thank Weidon Yang for the opportunity to collaborate on such a beautiful project. Wei and I are now geek siblings forever! Thank you to Wade Watkins for making the stand! And thanks to Daiane Lopes da Silva for assisting with sewing!

Scientific Delirium Madness resident artist Weidon Yang testing equipment for "Sharing"
Artist resident Kathy High with "Sharing" installation at Old Barn
Djerassi beating heart