The Heartbeat Archives

Les Archives du Coeur is a collection of recorded heartbeats housed in a small building on the island of Teshima in Japan’s Inland Sea, a ten minute walk from Karato Port. A walk that goes through woods, past crumbling old houses, faded shop signs, moored fishing boats, and past a couple of shrines. The small building in its remote location is constructed from a dark wood that blends into its surroundings.

Teshima
Teshima
Teshima
Teshima

As I was walking there, alone and in silence, I questioned if anyone would find me here, should they try. Was there any trace of my being here?

The artist Christian Boltanski says that his archive of heartbeats is proof of the lives of the participants. It is, at least, proof of around thirty seconds or so of what was, at the time of recording, a life. When you visit the archive you first see a monitor displaying the name of the owner of the heartbeat that you hear coming from behind the next door, as well as the date and the place where it was recorded. When you open the door into the main room you step into a heartbeat so loud that the walls seem to vibrate — or maybe that’s the effect of the bulb that flashes on and off in pace with the heartbeat.

When the bulb lights the room up for a split second rows of mirrors lining the walls become visible. Catching an image of yourself in one of the mirrors, you might say to yourself: I am here. Or, you may find yourself wondering about Sophia whose heartbeat (recorded in Paris, 2010) that you can hear and, in a way, see. Where else is her heart beating?

And where was I? I was not lost, but I was in a place where I could not be found. No one would even know where to look.

I remembered myself at 13 years old. I had stayed late after school for hockey practice and had to walk about a mile to the bus stop to get back home. Somewhere along the way I got lost. Lost: it was the end of everything. I sat down on a strange street and cried, sure that nothing would ever be right again because I was lost and no-one would ever know where to find me. The terror I felt then was nothing like the quiet sense of nowhere I felt on Teshima.

And anyway, there is always a way home; though we may not mean to, we leave crumbs wherever we go.

*

Les Archives du Coeur
Les Archives du Coeur

You can search for people on the heartbeat database by typing in their name or a place or date — the artist has recorded heartbeats in London, Berlin, Helsinki, Stockholm and New York. I had the option to record mine and add it to the database for someone to hear in the little room in the little building on this faraway island. It would be my stamp on Teshima that said I was here. But I chose not to. I was content with leaving crumbs.

Soho Nights

Photograph by gruntzooki/Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/doctorow/3621698248/

I have to confess to being absent for too long when I find out, a year late, that an old friend has written and published a book about the place where we met.

Bernie disappeared from my life years ago and re-entered it last night while doing a curious search for an old workplace, The Groucho Club. I came across an article in the Independent that talked of his book and himself, The Prince of Soho, as Stephen Fry christened him.

I worked at the Groucho Club during the last semester of university and the following summer, autumn and early winter of despair and loss of comprehension of what exactly it was I was supposed to do next. I moved slowly through the club, night after night, a nobody in a crowd full of ‘somebodies.’

Only members could visit the Groucho. It is a legendary joint, created for the brightest of the British arts and media world. Celebrities roamed without fear of being papped and egos were allowed to run free, unchallenged. On any given night, any given member could either think me wholly invisible or there to be recruited into listening to their megalomaniacal ramblings. It was only an old American Beat writer that sat at the bar and listened to me talk.

At the time of my tenure, those same young artists would grumble about the direction their club was taking. Since being bought out by a big businessman with a significant surname and an Eton schooling, the Groucho’s membership list had bloated, allowing in the Fat Cats of which Mr. X was surely an acquaintance. Money, not art or integrity was beginning to set the barometer for membership.

Last night, while searching for long-lost threads to the Groucho and accidently stumbling upon Bernie’s book, I saw how this had set a precedent for what was about to come in Soho, that “territory of anti-romance, a demi-monde of chancers, drunkards, crooks, degenerates and tarts with hearts of solid flint.” As the Independent’s piece describes it. The Colony Room—more secretive than the Groucho and arguably more authentic—had closed down, from what I gather, to make way for a block of luxury flats.

My dear, dark Soho is cleaning up. The bright XXX of the neon lights seem to have diminished every time I visit. I have the same experience with Tokyo’s Kabukicho district each time I go there. I grieve the dimming of my beloved red lights. Leave them be, I say, leave the Sohos of the world to the whores, the hustlers, the lost, the degenerates, self-proclaimed Dandys and anyone else who feels a kinship to our sordid little carnival. Long may the lowlife reign.