This yearâs MPavilion, Melbourneâs temporary summer events venue that sits in the gardens opposite the National Gallery of Victoria, is a light, airy, bamboo hut-like structure designed by Bijoy Jain of Studio Mumbai. Itâs the perfect place to cosy up in a hammock and listen to some dreamy ambient music â but what if the dreamy, ambient music is your own heartbeat?
One of the final installations at MPavilion, just in time for Valentineâs Day, is M*Sync: a performance art event that has nothing to do with 90s boy bands, and the focus of which is a biofeedback-themed installation that focuses on the heartbeat.
Co-curated Jonnine Standish and Jessie French, M*Sync is a collaboration between local and international musicians and Tasmaniaâs Unconscious Collective, a group of artists whose work focuses on relaxation and exploring shared experiences. Climb into one of four snuggly red hammocks called Hypnapods, hanging from the MPavilion ceiling, knitted on RMITâs high-tech knitting machines, and your heartbeat, via a built-in sensor, becomes one note in a four-part biofeedback harmony playing through the pavilionâs speakers.
Members of the collective, dressed in floating white cheesecloth, rock you gently. (Our attendant, Anand, turns out to have a secret life as a hospital doctor, and his bedside manner is unimpeachable.) Youâre invited to consider having a small snooze. Itâs lovely and soothing and Matt Warren and Ritchie Cynglerâs composition, of which your heartbeat becomes a part, is more underwater bathysphere than hospital monitor. The only downside, really, is that you have to get out after 15 minutes and let someone else have a turn.
The work grew out of Unconscious Collectiveâs Motel Dreaming â an overnight âdream incubatorâ at Dark Mofo in 2014, which perhaps appropriately ran at the same time as Rafael Lozano-Hemmerâs Pulse Room at Mona, an installation in which sensors sent hundreds of lightbulbs flashing in sync with audience membersâ heartbeats. The intention of the Hypnapod is to explore somatic connectedness â the biological phenomenon of synchronising with other creatures â but alone in the cosy red pod, the exploration of âhypnagogic statesâ â that comfortable in-between place where youâre just nodding off into a nap â seems more relevant.
On Saturday the pods became part of a performance built around the heart. Warren and Cyngler recorded audience membersâ heartbeats and live-remixed their whispers of âI love youâ, segueing into a set by the Sydney sound artist Gail Priest. M*Sync co-curators and a member of indie protopunk band HTRK, Jonnine Standish, took the stage with her new project Queens of the Circulating Library, followed by the Australian debut of the LA band Tropic of Cancer, wearing heart monitors and building their set live over their own heartbeats. Two dancers â Chunky Move regulars Niharika Senapati and Benjamin Hancock â squirmed out of the Hypnapods halfway through the set to perform the eveningâs highlight, a semi-improvised contemporary dance piece, in the classic modern dance tradition of beige underwear and displays of impressive core strength, to Tropic of Cancerâs super-slow ambient beats.
Despite the themes of Valentineâs Day love and connectedness, M*Sync is a work that is in no way diminished by going along solo. Short of squeezing into a Hypnapod with someone special and confusing the sensor, there isnât really too much room for romance: your pod is your pod, your musical experience is your musical experience, and contemporary dance is not known to be a hot ticket for a first date. Beyond swaths of red fabric and a sprinkling of rose petals, thereâs not a huge amount of romantic or somatic connectedness to be found.
That said, itâs hard to go past an installation like this for immersive, low-key, artistic fun â kids and adults alike have great fun in the hammocks, the music is accomplished and the dancers are top-notch â and full marks on the hypnagogic states; I have rarely felt so inclined towards a pleasant nap in public.
â¢ M*Sync runs until 14 February; MPavilion is open to the public until 18 February