George Poonkhin Khut
George Poonkhin Khut’s Distillery (Alembic & Retort). Photo: Mark Ashkanasy, RMIT Gallery, 2009.
Art in a heart beat
If you have done meditation, yoga or any structured form of relaxation exercise, then you will know the form – a soothing voice asks you to concentrate on your breathing and take your frantic mind to a calm and safe space. And so it is with George Poonkhin Khut’s work Distillery (Alembic & Retort).
Installed in the Super Human exhibition, the simple, elegantly modern table which Khut designed has four sensors embedded on the surface. Relax, close your eyes, put on the headphones and place your hands on the sensors. You will then hear the shifting rhythms of your heart.
And that soothing voice will tell you to calm down and take you through relaxation exercises. This interactive work invites viewers to explore and reflect on the relationships between our thoughts, feelings and physiology. The sensors navigate the participants through layers of electronic sound using emotionally-mediated changes in heart patterning.
“I’ve been exploring the idea of the heart for some time, and by analysing heart patterns we can see stress and relaxation patterns in someone’s body,” Khut said.
“It is fascinating to see how the heart is connected to the emotions, literally connected to how the heart is feeling. This work gives people an opportunity to go inside themselves.”
Khut’s background as an artist includes sound design, installation and theatre work. In 2002 he became interested in biofeedback as a way of connecting subjective world to the physical world.
“I do my own coding and software on the computer as an installation artist, and the medical information I need on heart rate variability I get from science journals,” Khut said.
“I am also very inspired by Zen breathing meditation.”
Khut said that artists working on the cutting edge of art and technology interpret the technology and technological abilities, pulling them into their creative imagination and making sense of the world.
“I find it very interesting to look at all the other exhibits in the Super Human exhibition as I can see a theme in that as artists we are making sense of technology and making sense of who we are as bodies.”
Khut calls his work Distillery a “playful flirtation of the experience” of meditation using technology as feedback. He sees his work as very reflective, with the audience part of the art by making sense of their own physicality and emotions by interacting with the piece.
“Distillery augments the viewer’s ability to sense very quiet things,’ Khut said.
“You put on the earphones and hear your heart beat – it’s triggered from your actual heart beat but what you hear is resynthesised heart beats combined with musical sounds.”
If someone is stressed, the music is fast and the sounds are rumbling and slightly discordant. As the viewer calms down, the sounds become calmer and slower. When the viewer slows down to six breaths a minute, that’s when the soothing ambient sounds kick in.
“I worked with a Feldenkrais practitioner to do the voice over and take viewers through an exploration of bringing people’s focus inside, making sure they pay attention to their posture and breathing.” Khut said.
“Distillery isn’t about being relaxed, it’s about awareness and the relationship between emotional and the heart.”
For media enquiries, photos and interviews with artists, contact RMIT Gallery Media Coordinator Evelyn Tsitas at RMIT Gallery
Tel: +61 3 9925 1716