Dimitris Makris

Heartbeats Left

The number of heartbeats remaining for a person is calculated based on actuarial tables and is then turned into public knowledge through a large LCD display. As his heart is beating, the number decrements in sync thus expressing the "memento mori" statement inextricably tied to the human condition.


Introduction to Computational Media (Tue),Introduction to Physical Computing (Wed PM)

A performer wears a visible heartbeat sensor and stands next to an LCD screen.
The screen displays an, initially incomprehensible, long number that decrements by one unit at a time. A caption next to the setup provides some context.

The long number corresponds to the heartbeats that are remaining for that person. The calculation, as the caption explains, is based on an actuarial science mathematical model. Actuarial science models are used by insurance companies to calculate a person’s expected lifetime based on his or her characteristics.

A date and time is also part of the caption. It refers to the point in time at which the countdown begun. Thus, at the initiation of the project, e.g. Dec 17th 5pm, the remaining heartbeats are 2320330752, based on the performer’s specific characteristics. That information is written in the caption.

The countdown proceeds. The performer is standing next or close to the screen. He may be silent or talking to the visitors. Interaction between the audience and the piece takes place “through” the performer. If a member of the audience says or does something that will raise or lower the heartbeat rate of the performer that will be reflected on the screen.

This project aims at eliciting a reaction to an indisputable fact. Beyond doubt, human lifetime is finite; however expressing that fact in the denomination of our personal biological currency, our own heartbeat, aspires to render that fact more palpable.

- Basic actuarial science assumptions about life expectancy
- Polar sensor setup
- Processing and Arduino code

The audience, for this implementation, is any visitor to the ITP's Winter Show 08.
This is a performance piece that has no inherent restrictions in terms of its potential audience.

User Scenario
This is a performance piece thus the user is an observer.
Interaction occurs when the observer e.g. talks to the performer.
Moreover, if the observer says or does something that would e.g. surprise the performer, the heartbeat of the performer will accelerate thus decrementing the respective number at a higher speed.

- Polar heartbeat sensor
- Breadboard with chip that "listens to" the sensor
- Arduino that "talks to" a processing sketch running on a mac
- Large LCD display next to the performer that displays a long number decrementing in sync with the actual heartbeat
- Information informing the viewer regarding the setup. A central piece of information is the exact starting date of the countdown: Dec 17th 2008, 17:00.

A generally accepted fact may exert a surprisingly strong impact if delivered in a dramatized way. It goes to show that our perception of reality may vary between a more distanced/cerebral approach to a more "experiential"/emotional/engaged one.