For the majority of us, we use biometric data every day without a second though. Our irises unlock our phones, our watches monitor our heartrate, and our cameras recognize our faces. Rarely do we get to see a visualization of this data – until now. Alum Allison Chan (BDes 2020) has used the biometric data of heartbeats to create an immersive and interactive art installation.
“My thesis examined how we can use biometric data, specifically our heartbeats, as an instrument for social connection,” explains Allison. InterPulse, as illustrated in the below video, shows two people interacting with the piece and the effect of their existence on one another. “I designed it to signify how one person’s existence, as represented through their heartbeat, still has an effect on their surroundings,” said Allison, “They are always interconnected with all parts of the universe.”
The addition of a second person, or heartbeat, creates a more dynamic visual. You can see the impact of the heartbeats as the visuals of individual heartbeats collide. “If I had more time, there would be further iterations of InterPulse where there would be more than two sensor devices,” said Allison. “Or devices that didn’t exist in the same space and would send heartbeats over far distances.”
It’s easy to imagine the impact this experience would have on the participant. Watching your own heartbeat form as cascading fragments of light in front of you, and further sharing this experience with that of someone you know – or don’t know – would stick with you, even forming a mental or emotional bond with others experiencing it alongside you. Similar to the way a live concert can bring attendees together through a shared experience, InterPulse has the capacity to forge connection in a time where we are feeling disconnected.
“Throughout my research, I realized that the ways people are already connected to one another without directly interacting with one another are often invisible and overlooked,” said Allison. “This is where my project comes in to highlight alternative ways of thinking about social connections that are just as meaningful! InterPulse is able to figuratively visualize these connections of our existences through seeing our heartbeats together, which can be a very intimate emotional experience that not many may have had an opportunity to experience.”
Allison explains that her ultimate goal would be able to share this work for the public to experience, emphasizing the interconnectedness of our existences. “Sharing the works in a public space, especially with people outside of Vancouver with various diverse cultural backgrounds and ages, would allow for a positive change in perceptions of others in the world,” said Allison. “Especially with strangers, during a time now where our connections with each other have never felt more detached.”
It is no surprise that Allison’s work caught the attention of the Montréal-based Moment Factory, a multimedia studio specializing in the conception and production of immersive environments. Moment Factory, responsible for Alta Lumina and the recent Billie Eilish livestream concert, looks to inspire a sense of collective wonder and connection.
InterPulse fits right in.
As a result, Allison became the recipient of this year’s Moment Factory graduation award. “Everything came full circle when I received a call that I had won,” said Allison. “Moment Factory was one of the companies whose works I came across many times while researching precedents for my projects during my studies at ECU.” Allison shares that she first learned of Moment Factory during her second year and had a fleeting thought of how exciting it would be to work on large-scale public works like that.
“Life is pretty crazy and everything is interconnected,” said Allison. “I was excited, of course, but also extremely thankful that so many people helped me get to this point.” Allison shared that although Covid-19 halted her plans of having the public experience the project, InterPulse was made from the efforts and energy of all her classmates, school technicians, friends and family who all lent a helping hand during the design process. “In a way, this lives out the legacy that it was the interconnection of all of these people who had made it possible,” said Allison.
Receiving the award also changed Allison’s outlook on her creative pursuits. “Suddenly it seemed like my creative vision and ideas for the future of emerging technology held a lot more weight in the creative community,” explained Allison. “As a woman of colour, it is difficult to see yourself represented in spaces that combine programming with art, so being able to see that my work resonated with people outside of that space gives me hope that it can inspire those who have little experience with coding to experiment with new technologies to share their message with the world, just like how I began in my second year.”
This wasn’t Allison’s first interactive project. She first created (E)ntity, which was exhibited at the TELUS World of Science here in Vancouver. “My goal in creating these interactive pieces is to get people to question their relationship with new technology, and if possible, reframing it in a more positive and exciting way,” said Allison.
“In my time working on (E)ntity and InterPulse, I was able to find a few designers and artists who are also women of colour and work with creative technologies,” said Allison. “Yoon Chung Han, Sougwen Chung, and Lisa Park. I wanted to shout them out as these women are just a few of those who inspire me to continue to share my vision and ideas on biometrics with interactive art.”
Allison also wants to thank her classmates who helped her immensely in my research, her professors Ben Unterman and Haig Armen for their guidance during her fourth year, and lab technicians Tim Rolls, Cimarron Knight, Logan Mohr, Brian Fössl for helping with the technical construction of InterPulse.
“Currently, I’m looking for work as a UX designer and researcher,” said Allison. “A job at TELUS World of Science or Moment Factory would be such a dream, but I’m not sure where my interests will take me as I continue to experiment with new ideas and ways of using technology.” Allison’s larger goal as a designer is to continue building meaningful connections between people to celebrate what makes each of us similar and different from those next to us. “It doesn’t always have to be large scale in the form of an exhibit,” said Allison. “I can do so even in ways on a smaller scale that still creates a positive social change.”
With her degree under her belt now, Allison has time to experiment with methods of creating interactive art, learning new programs, and finding a career where she can put her skills as an interaction designer and interactive artist to use in an interdisciplinary environment. You can see more of Allison’s work on her website or read another article on InterPulse published on the ECUAD.ca website.