Sarah Harvey – Opus Pericardium
Posted In: Nathan Thomas, Opus Pericardium, Professor Peter MacFarlane, Richard Whale, Sarah Harvey, Sarah Harvey - Opus Pericardium, Simon C. Russell, SoundFjord, Soundfjord gallery, Tim Yates
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Brighton-based artist Sarah Harvey previously worked as a nurse on a cardiothoracic unit, spending all day surrounded by the sounds of other people’s heartbeats. This experience has helped to shape and guide her artistic practice, the latest outcome of which is currently installed at London’s Soundfjord gallery. Created in collaboration with composers Tim Yates and Simon C. Russell, with advice and support from medical researchers Professor Peter MacFarlane and Richard Whale, “Opus Pericardium” brings the sound of a human heart out of the medical lab and into the gallery space, making it available to be heard and responded to in new ways. A recording of a heartbeat, selected from a MIT database of electrocardiogram readings from the 1970s, plays in a continual loop inside a dimly-lit white chamber; every now and then, the rhythm of the heartbeat skips a little, indicating the presence of the medical condition arrhythmia.
Harvey describes “Opus Pericardium” as a ‘sci-art’ project, and with good reason: the work makes reference to various modes of scientific, medical and technological discourse, from cutting-edge research into the treatment of heart conditions to the industrial processes used to develop diagnostic machines (the MIT database from which the heartbeat was selected is used as a calibration and testing tool by medical device manufacturers). However, the installation is more than an elaborate medical textbook, as the actual experience of the work makes clear. The heartbeat recording has been subtly enhanced by Yates in order to bring out its nuances, and the enclosed space of the chamber produces the impression of being inside the heart of another person, a sensation of both intimacy and otherness. These modes of representation are employed not to simply imitate the appearance of medical research in its questioning of the human heart, but to repeat the elements of those questions in a different configuration – a difference that allows the questions to be considered from new perspectives.
In an era when governments are cutting back funding for research in the humanities in favour of the more ‘practical’ disciplines of science and technology, scientists themselves are increasingly reaching out to artists to help shed new light on their work, as evidenced by the increase in artist’s residencies in scientific departments and institutions. By turning raw medical data into an immersive sensory experience, into something real and present, “Opus Pericardium” proposes a new model for thinking about the heart for scientists and laypersons alike – a model with the potential to spark many new connections, insights, and conversations.
“Opus Pericardium” runs from 7th July – 4th August 2012 at Soundfjord gallery, London. It can be viewed by appointment from Monday to Saturday, or on Wednesday evenings 6-8pm without an appointment. On 21st July there will be a talk at the gallery with the artists and scientists involved in the project – see the gallery’s website for more details.
- Nathan Thomas for Fluid Radio