I first heard about Pulse through Aesthetica Magazine back in late November 2018 and was super excited that the exhibit would be at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C. The Hirshhorn is the Smithsonian’s museum of contemporary art located on the National Mall. I had visited the museum a handful of times over the past ten years and always had great experiences. Plus, the drive to D.C. on a weekend is only a couple hours from Central PA (even closer if your starting point is York County), making it an easy destination for an overnight getaway for the DO. team.
The Pulse exhibit is the work of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (b. 1967), where visitors’ vital signs are used to interact with technology to create visuals, sound, and movement. The first of three installations in the exhibit is Pulse Index, which allows participants to use a sensor to project an image of their fingerprints and a visualization of their heartbeats on the gallery wall. The fingerprint is added to a massive grid of 3,911 projected images as the oldest image from previous participants is erased.
Second is Pulse Tank where sensors record biometric information of participants and use it to manipulate shallow pools of water. The ripples are projected on to the wall, displaying animated patterns that intensify when additional participants join in. The third installation was the first that Lozano-Hemmer created when he was inspired by the ultrasound of heartbeats of his twins during his wife’s pregnancy in 2006. It’s called Pulse Room and is made up of 200+ light bulbs hung in symmetrical patterns in a darkened room. A participant holds sensors that read heartbeat data which causes the lights to illuminate in rhythm. That heartbeat is added to previously recorded beats creating an amplified low-end rumble and more complex flashing light patterns.
Pulse uses the most basic functionality of the living organism, an involuntary muscular spasm, to ironically create the images and sounds in the pieces. Without human interaction, the technology of the pieces wouldn’t animate, therefore the intersection, in this case, is required. I loved the ideas, and even more so, the execution of those ideas. It was an inspiring way to spend a Saturday afternoon. The exhibit runs until April 28, 2019 and admission to the museum is free to all. Experience it!
We returned to Bistro Italiano, located on D Street in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, for a delightful evening meal featuring eggplant parmesan, baked ziti, and a Caprese salad appetizer. My last visit to this quaint hole-in-the-wall bistro was for a birthday dinner in September 2017 when much to my surprise Bernie Sanders popped in for a quick plate of spaghetti. No such Bernie sighting this time around, but this trip’s highlight was clearly the desserts. We tried the flan and cannoli, paired with some excellent coffee.
With an open evening in D.C., we decided to look for something fun to do and came across the Unified Scene Theater, an improv comedy workshop and performance space at 80 T St. NW. The timing worked well with our dinner reservation, and the ticket price was right at $15 so we took a chance sight unseen for a show that featured three local improv troupes: Huggy Smalls, Rancy Neagan, and Sistine Robot.
The space has an intimate DIY feel with a few dozen chairs surrounding a stage “area” that keeps you right in the middle of the action. When we arrived we met Shawn Westfall, the co-founder and grand poobah of the theater, who kindly sold us a couple tickets and loaned me a desperately needed iPhone charger. I explained that we were in from out town and he chuckled at the fact that there are so many cool things happening around town, and we stumbled upon this one!
But after the show, I sincerely wouldn’t have wanted to do anything else. All three troupes were a delight, drawing belly laughs from the first minute to the last. They wove intricate and wacky narratives throughout their sets, pushing the stories to the outer limits and somehow consistently pulling them back together. I don’t have a lot of experience watching improv troupes do their thing, but these three troupes all had mad skills and masterfully achieved the ultimate goal…making me laugh for well over an hour. Kudos to Shawn, Huggy Smalls, Rancy Neagan, and Sistine Robot for a job well done!