Gisborne hospital’s echocardiography machine might not be art as we know it, but it lights up exactly the same parts of the mind regular art reaches.
The Echo uses ultrasound to lay bare in real-time, colour and 3D, a patient’s beating heart. Suspended in a fan-shaped ray of sonar, the solid form of the pulsing organ coalesces into a surprisingly clear form. The image can be rotated. Parts can be sectioned off as a cube. The cube can be turned this way and that. As if on a virtual Fantastic Voyage, in which a miniaturised medical team and submarine are injected into a scientist’s bloodstream you can travel through the heart’s walls, chambers and pipes.
Delicate flaps known as leaflets open and close at a constant rhythm as the heart pumps blood around the body. They look like pinball flippers but their job is to prevent blood from flowing back into the wrong chamber. Their binary action never alters but it is so hard to look away it’s a wonder specialists get any work done at all.
“When you split the sac open it crates a cradle which the heart sits in. It rocks, quite literally, twisting and untwisting with every beat within this cradle,” says cardiac-thoracic surgeon Dr William Peters.
“It’s totally mesmerising. Then you remember there is work to be done.”
When the Echo’s sound is turned on, the omnipresent “lub-dub, lub-dub” beat envelopes you like an ancient memory. It is the soundtrack each one of was suspended in before we were born. Add the soft-shoe susurration of a narrowed and leaky valve due to rheumatic fever, and you’ve got an East Coast beat you could rap to.
Call it Lub Dub.
To pump blood around the human body for a lifetime, the heart’s design is vortical. Based on the logarithmic spiral, the smallest part of the design shares exactly the same proportions as the whole.
This is a principle of nature Dr Peters explores in sculpture and print-making. He has plumbed the classical notion of “divine proportion”, the golden ratio known as phi. Phi’s fractal pattern can be found in the nautilus sea-shell, the face of a sun-flower, certain cacti and in the architecture of the Athenian temple Parthenon.
As far as Dr Peters is concerned the organic principle of the heart determines the design of the human body from heart to fingertips.
To render the heart’s vortical nature in 2D, he used a process not unlike that of the Echo.
“We used digital data captured from the most advanced MRI technology from Germany and sought to strip away the blood pathway which appears as the ghostly soft-shell form in the print.
“Spheres were placed in the soft-shell form and the centre-point of each sphere was used to ‘join the dots’ to create a singular white line that distils the essence of the form of the distributive motor within humans.”
The singular white line describes an evolute. Its form is determined by phi, nature’s most efficient principle of growth. It is designed to transmit energy to the body’s furtherest proportional parts.
Printed on metallic paper and embedded in perspex, Dr Peters’ God Particle looks a little like a baby alien and not at all like something you’d want inside your chest. But there’s not a lot you can do about that. We’ve all got one.
The beat goes on.