THIS SECRET LOCATION – George Khut: Cyborg dancing

Tim Atack inside George Khut’s Cardiomorphologies



George Poonkhin Khut’s Cardiomorphologies is a multimedia work wherein the vital medium is the participant’s body. A pressure-sensitive strap is placed around your upper ribs to measure your breathing; your heart rate is converted into electronic pulses using sensors held in both hands. You sit in a comfortable chair and watch your personal bodysong writ large in throbbing circular pulses, projected before you. It’s described by the artist as a “quietly immersive” experience, and whilst that’s certainly true the act is also quietly invasive in the way that any vaguely medical procedure tends to be. A whole gallery wall is occupied by huge, unflinching multicoloured representations of your vital organs for all to view, unstoppable only in the sense that you can let go of the electrodes at any time. Simultaneously, sounds are generated from the rhythmic beat of your body data, and these are audible on headphones: a pair around your own head, and wireless sets for use by any interested parties around the gallery space. As a participant, it’s possible to use the experience several ways. One is to sit back and watch your body mechanism rendered as artwork in as passive or meditative a manner as possible—given the situation. Another is to play Cardiomorphologies like a musical instrument. The metabolic musician can use hyperventilation or deep breathing to form wider, more vibrant circular pulses on the screen, the thump of the heart increasing in volume, size and frequency, before perhaps making attempts to slow the tempo back down into a natural resting state.

Whatever approach you decide upon, Cardiomorphologies creates a very honest creative symbiosis between yourself and a cold, hard computer. There are many pieces at the Inbetween Time festival concerned with relationships—both real and imagined—between humans and technology, but Khut’s biological mimic is the only example where the machine can literally be said to have taken on human characteristics. However, the key facet of Cardiomorphologies’ ingenuity is the manner in which bodily data is transformed into highly abstract representations. True, it’s possible to imagine the piece presented with life-like or even photorealistic video images of heart and lungs up on that screen, but the effect would be to slam out a constant reminder to any participant of their own mortality, their entropic, finite qualities, the ones that make humans most resemble machines… and let’s face it, a huge undulating mass of meat projected in this fashion would probably make people lose their lunch on a regular basis. With the far subtler approach chosen by Khut, a partnership develops between device and devisor. Given enough time in that chair, it’s almost possible to forget the mechanical-biological feed into the image, and to consider your cyborg interactions a sort of dance, a duet, a partnership of necessity. It’s hypnotic—almost literally—and reflecting upon the experience afterwards there’s enough interdependence in Cardiomorphologies to make you ponder the implications of Khut’s hardware freezing, or his software crashing. If you were sufficiently immersed in the process and the screen suddenly went blank, what sort of shock might that provoke and would your metabolism follow suit?

George Khut is a Sydney-based artist working in the area of sound and immersive installation environments.

George Poonkin Khut, Cardiomorphologies, Arnolfini, Feb 1-12

RealTime issue #72 April-May 2006 pg.

© Tim Atack; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2006