3,000 shimmering, suspended orbs speckle the glossy darkness within one of Superblue Miami’s expansive gallery spaces. Together, these illuminated components—each glimmering to the rhythm of one of 3,000 recorded human heartbeats—form “Pulse Topology,” by prolific Mexican-Canadian mixed-media artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. Running from 17 November 2022 through August 2023, the installation arrived in Miami thanks to BMW in conjunction with their official Art Basel partnership. Lozano-Hemmer also translated this enveloping artistic experience into a more intimate one, accessible only during Miami Art Week (until 4 December) in the backseat of a fully electric 2023 BMW i7 sedan at Superblue.
Though it’s hard to turn your eyes away from, “Pulse Topology” isn’t only meant to be observed; it’s designed to absorb and immerse. Among the waves of LEDs, three custom-made pulse sensors dangle before visitors. When one sensor is positioned above an outstretched hand, it uses photoplethysmography technology to record that particular attendee’s pulse, which is translated into an electrocardiogram and then cast into the light-canopy above (replacing the oldest of the 3,000 recordings). This continuously refreshes the 3,000 people represented within.
The origin of “Pulse Topology” is anchored in human life. “In 2005, my ex-wife was pregnant with twins and I learned that an ultrasound machine could let you listen to a heartbeat,” Lozano-Hemmer explains. “Being a nerd, I asked for two ultrasound machines so that we could simultaneously listen to the heartbeat of the boy and the heartbeat of the girl. They were completely different and they were syncopating and creating this rhythmic pattern like Steve Reich or Glenn Branca or Philip Glass music.” Lozano-Hemmer began to wonder what it would be like to record the heartbeats of thousands of people and hear them in concert.
Lozano-Hemmer’s family influenced this partnership, as well. “I have three teenage kids who are all environmental activists,” he says. “They are unbelievably aware of climate change and extinction events. They school me every day.” They were worried about their father collaborating with an automotive partner, until he made explained that it was to launch an electric vehicle. “I appreciate the idea that cars are moving toward something more sustainable,” he adds. Coupled with that, Lozano-Hemmer has long appreciated BMW’s history of supporting artists and the arts.
For all the mesmerizing grandeur of “Pulse Topology” within Superblue there’s something so emotionally stirring about its translation within the BMW i7, where face detection technology captures the pulse of the people sitting in the back and presents it on the built-in 34-inch screen. “The experience of being in the car, if you are alone, you hear yourself. There’s a little bit of a mirroring effect. The car is making your biometrics tangible,” he says. “It’s when you’re with another passenger that you hear this kind of syncopated beat. We think of our heartbeat as an intimate rhythm, but when it’s shared it produces this minimalist music.” There’s a magnitude to this intimacy that occurs in the BMW.
“Both in the case of this BMW and ‘Pulse Topology,’ in my artwork, I think of these experiences as incomplete,” Lozano-Hemmer continues. “It’s only when there is a passenger, a visitor or a participant that you get to complete the experience. In the design world, they call it ergonomics—the idea of having an environment that perfectly fits the human who is going to be in it. To an extent, my work is also like that. It’s tailored to the participant. It reacts to their presence.”
Lozano-Hemmer oscillates between referring to the car as a stage and as a collaborator. “One of the things that happened with the i7,” he says, “is that it’s already tailored for a digital experience. I needed a camera. Well, the car has a camera. I needed Bluetooth audio; the car has that. I needed an HDMI output for high resolution graphics. It already has that. There is a sense of the vehicle being a paradise, a playground for nerds like myself.”
In the age of Instagram-focused artwork and amidst a week of attention-grabbing partnerships, Lozano-Hemmer has succeeded in tantalizing attendees while simultaneously sharing a sincere message of unity. “An artwork needs to be inclusive and an artwork needs to be something that can represent everybody so that we can conduct ourselves with dignity,” Lozano-Hemmer says. He adds, “Everybody has a heartbeat.” And “Pulse Topology” recognizes this. It listens to everyone, and it unites them among a network of flickering lights.
Hero image courtesy of BFA