Deep in the heart of Holborn

What makes the artist Simon Tegala tick? He tells Vanessa Thorpe about his latest work, without missing a beat
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The Independent Culture
It's 3.15am and Simon's heart rate is calm and steady at 65. And yet on Saturday night it was pounding away at a frightening 190 beats per minute.

Such are the illuminating, and potentially quite embarrassing, personal details which an artist called Simon Tegala has been happy to share with pedestrians and motorists in a busy London thoroughfare.

For 11 days now, a large electronic sign in High Holborn has continuously displayed five-second updates on his heart rate to the world outside.

"I won't say why, but my heart rate was somewhere very near its limit on Saturday. It almost got up to 200. At the other end of the scale, of course, when I am asleep it is at its slowest," says Tegala, his rate quickly rising to 90 with the mild pressure of the interview.

The street sign and an accompanying Web site are both part of a public art work which Tegala has called Anabiosis, the medical term for a revival after apparent death.

"I liked the idea that when people walked along and saw the sign, they might stop," explains the 24-year-old. "And then they might think to themselves, `if I am looking up there at someone being alive, then I must be alive, too, and so must all these other people around me'."

Cardiographic details of Tegala's progress throughout the month have been posted on the Net, so that it is not just the homeless lying in West End doorways who can monitor the late-night excitement quotient of a hip young artist's life.

The Web site also carries two pieces of text by the writer Deborah Levy, along with a statistical "diary of the heart" put together by Polar Electro Oy of Finland so that Tegala's cardiovascular performance can be broken down each day.

"This thing rules my life at the moment, rather than the other way around," Tegala admits, although the equipment itself is relatively unobtrusive. "It is like walking around with the most demanding Tamagotchi ever. I wear a chest transmitter and all the readings are recorded in a small black box I carry in my pocket. I can see a light flashing my heart rate all the time."

A signal from the monitor is transmitted via mobile phone to the electronic sign. "If I go out of range, the computer rings me up and grabs all the data from my chest. It steals my heart."

Since the advent of Jennicam, the Web site which takes browsers into the bedroom of a perfect stranger, some might argue that Tegala's restricted kind of techno-exhibitionism is a little tame. But what raises this artistic stunt above all those other peekaboo experiments is its appealing series of twists. For a start, the information Tegala has chosen to disclose about himself manages to be intimate and at the same time impersonal.

The idea, Tegala says, was inspired by the first conflict in the Gulf. "It was those pictures received from the cameras on the bombs and the fact that we were able to see and supposed to believe what we saw.

"It had all been bounced off this piece of metal in the sky and then beamed into somebody's home in High Wycombe."

Tegala wanted to make people think about life in the same way that the smart bomb "movies" had distanced the viewer from the possibility of death. "So I thought, what if I projected the most intimate part of my life in the most public way I could?"

This Institute of International Visual Arts project in the end quite cleverly asks what the beholder understands and what it is they can believe. Tegala's Anabiosis may turn out to be just a blip on the cardiogram of wacky installation art, but it does briefly have something almost deep to say about digital information and people.