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  • Heart Sense

    Understanding Our Individual and Collective Selves: A Design-based Inquiry into the Physiology of Embodiment


    How can the very creation, rendering, and experiencing of biological data be distinctly feminist? For example, how can it start from women’s lives in all our plurality and complexity, break down binaries such as objectivity/subjectivity and science/feminism, and contribute to a more nuanced understanding of our bodies – a kind of knowing that is in and of the world?

    Heart rate data may seem like a counterintuitive choice as an entry point into these questions. The monitored heart rate can be very mechanistic and even disciplinary: the persistent mechanical beeping during surgery (Kneebone, 2017), the fetal heartbeat of anti-choice politics (Edgar, 2017), monitors that can spur excessive intervention in childbirth (Cartwright, 1998), and even fitness monitors that incite increased intensity in exercise (Pirkko & Pringle, 2006: 59). Heart rate can be a site of plural layers of “control by quantification” (Browne, 2015: 9). Yet the heart remains ambiguous and undisciplined. In times of emotional intensity, a racing heart rate can feel very much out of control. At the same time, we can feel our own heartbeat, and that of others with whom we are intimate. In this manner, heart rate offers an accessible route into engaging with our bodies. This mundaneness and accessibility, in turn, makes it less likely that data about the heart could mechanize subjectivity the way that data about, say, the brain might. The heart’s pace is at once most intimate and personal, while simultaneously deeply connected to others and the outside world. Creatively engaged, heart rate can offer an intriguing point of departure for feminist engagement with the entangled nature of data, matter, and meaning both in theory and practice.

    Collective Reflection on Embodiment

    This installation engages with social dimensions of embodiment through the mediation of the physical environment. Three participants are invited to sit around a table and are given headphones to listen to music. A floral visualization representing both individual and collective heart rates of the participants will be projected onto the table, the size and the colors of each petal shifting with changes in each participant’s body. The visualization showcases how our bodies come into relation with each other and are in and of the environment, as they respond to our surrounding conditions even when we are not aware of it. The floral form takes inspiration from the trillium, a spring ephemeral whose individual flowering bodies are connected by a system of underground rhizome roots.


    Individual Reflection on Embodiment

    This installation takes a participant’s heart rate, galvanic skin response, and breathing as input to produce flower-like visualizations that illustrate physiological responses to a short, emotionally engaging video. The visualizations work eschew standard body tracking visualisations by presenting representations that are whole and designed not to be optimizable. They give participants a sense of their embodied responses to the video and a chance to reflect on their embodied responses in the process. Each heart visualization displays a person's physiological response to watching an emotionally-engaging video. Different physiological characteristics (heart rate, galvanic skin response, and breathing patterns) were used as variables to create a flower-like visualization.


    [1] Nassim JafariNaimi and Anne Pollock, "Heart Sense: Experiments in Design as a Catalyst for Feminist Reflections on Embodiment," in Proceedings of 2018 Design Research Society (DRS) Conference, (Limerick, Ireland: 2018): Vol 2., 497–505. Download Here.

    [2] Nassim JafariNaimi and Anne Pollock, “Heart Time: Reflections on Physiology and Embodiment.” 2017 Meeting of the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts (SLSA), November 2017 (Tempe, Arizona).

    [3] Pollock, Anne. Heart feminism. Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience 1, no. 1 (2015).

    [4] Cox, Olivia. (2021) Anticipating Explicit Motor Learning by Assessing Arousal Levels using HRV and GSR [Undergraduate Thesis, Georgia Institute of Technology].


    We have presented this work at:

    ACC Smithsonian Creativity and Innovation Festival, National Museum of American History – April 2022


    Society for Social Studies of Science Boston - August 2017


    Final Annual Comscicon Atlanta - March 2018

    Current Members

    Sylvia Janicki
    Digital Media, PhD Student

    Aditya Anupam
    Digital Media, Postdoctoral Researcher

    Shubhangi Gupta
    Digital Media, PhD Student

    Mohsin Y. K. Yousufi
    Digital Media, PhD Student

    Pooja Casula
    Digital Media, PhD Student

    Michelle Ramirez
    Digital Media, MS Student

    Past Members

    Christina Bui
    Digital Media, MS Student

    Tae Prasongpongchai
    HCI, MS Student

    Charlie Denton
    Digital Media, MS Student

    Olivia Cox
    Neuroscience, BS Student

    Shruti Dalvi

    Regan Lawson
    Applied Physiology, PhD

    Tae Eun Kim

    Udaya Lakshmi

    Da-In Ryoo
    CS, BS