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Cyb rotiC] .
Transformations
Julie Clarke

SandySlone
at The Metropolitan,
Melbourne, 19 July 1995.
Photo by Julie ClarkC'.

eternal state of the living dead. In this age of computer


technologies and intemet working, we are like, Lestat,
In Neuromancer 1 Gibson's male character Case briefly feeding off the invisible umbilical of information. Bodies
becomes woman, other, and transgendered. As he powerfully rejecting notions of death and disease, we
enters Molly he encounters the "abrupt jolt into other escape into the other of the simulacrum; the screen and
flesh... moving through a crowded street. ... For a few the word. Desiring the other as ourselves, becoming other
frightened seconds he fought helplessly to control her in our disappearing bodies, our phantom bodies dissolved
body. Then he willed himself into passivity, became the in the imagined body of our longing. The boundary
passenger behind the eyes".' Case's virtual habitation of between organic and technological, life and death,
Molly's body, is instantaneous and painless. He material and imagination is being played out in the thin
experiences no real trauma as he becomes woman in this membrane of the screen. But this is the imaginary! As
smooth transition. Implicit in this account is that whilst Stone has said when talking about identities and
Case is "inside" Mally, sh~ is in control. However as we cyberspace: liNo refigured virtual body, no matter how
read further, Case is untroubled and is unchanged, he beautiful will slow the death of a cyberpunk with AIDS.
gains no insights into what is it like to be woman. He is Even in the age of the technosocial subject, life is lived
other and cyborg in this technological fusion. His through bodies".'
'simstim' experience is made possible by technology Lestat is an interesting creature because as vampire and
which enables this invisible coupling and invasion of cyborg he represents both genders, neither of them
another body. Here as in other scenarios throughout defined by their genitalia. A boundary creature who
Western culture the cyborg represents both postgender inhabits a zone that has not yet been widely spoken of in
and transgender notions, where the fusion betvveen gender discourse. Neither queer, straight or bi, but a
straight and queer, male and female excites the person who exhibits the qualities of both genders, who
imagination. engages with the world from a different perspective.
According to Haraway the cyborg is a "condensed Stone prOVides the following definition of Transgender on
image of both imagination and material reality".3 But what her homepage: "Transgender includes everything not
happens when there is no physical body to change, and covered by our culture's narrow terms 'man' and
the bodies that we are speaking to are bodies that we 'woman'...persons who might include themselves in such
imagine, fictional characters and fantastic elaborations of a definition includes transsexuals (pre, post, and no-op);
our own fantasies, such as the imagined 'others' on the transvestites; crossdressers; persons with ambiguous
Net. genitalia; persons who have chosen to perform ambiguous
In The War of Desire.... Allucquere Stone speaks of the social genders; and persons who have chosen to perform
Vampire Lestat. He is: "a liminal creature and - though no gender at all".' Cyborgs and transgenders occupy a
not to belabour the obvious - acyborg. Cyborgs are unique place in body imaging in technoculture.
boundary creatures, not only human/machine, but If the human body is disappearing into technology, then
creatures of cultural interstice as well; and Lestat inhabits technology too is disappearing into flesh. Not just literally
the boundaries between death and life, temporality and integrating into human skin and bone, but incorporated
eternity, French and English, gay and straight, man and into our psychology and body imagery, creating a body as
woman, good and evil".4 cyborg. Cyborgs and transgenders are the display of the
Lestat is a great example of the absent body with a human body in spectacular 'otherness' in contrast to the
desire for connection; and although it is blood that gives unseen spectacular body of disease.
him life, it is that very fluid which keeps him in the Barker provides an explanation of the disappearing or

ARTllNK 67 VOl16N02&3
absent body, she said "if the old body stood at the centre extreme example of body inscription, replicating ideas of
of its culture as the word made flesh, the new body, in the female body as an empty space on which to write,
both its absent and its positive aspects, registers itself as instead she uses the surface of her flesh as a zone and
flesh made word".7 More recently performance artists are indicator of a culture disappearing into its images. She
involved in this return to the spectacular body in a fusion chooses Art Historical references and imitates the mass
of the human and the technological. Three examples come media's obsession with cultural icons in image
to mind. Allucquere Rosanne Stone's genital construction.
reconstructive surgery and hormone therapy to physically Both Orlan and Stone raise important questions about
transform her body from perceived male to a perceived human identity incorporated in computer culture. Orlan
female. Orlan, the French Performance Artist, who has takes scanned and fragmented body images and uses
undergone seven surgical performances to transform her teclmology to create an image of woman that caIUlot be
facial features, and Stelarc, the Greek-born Australian fixed or located. Bits of cartilage which have been
Performance Artist whose coupling with technology, surgically implanted in her forehead, invite ideas of the
Third Hand mechanism and technofusion performances, satyr and the excess and ritual of the Bacchae.
scream of the hybrid. All speak of the obsolete body, and Transgressional elements infuse masquerade and mockery
applaud the notion of cyborg and its potential to corrupt of idealised beauty into her oeuvre. She creates
gender binaries. human/animal, human/machine hybrids. She is a cyborg,
OrIan, although using current technologies such as woman as transgressor of nature.
telepresence to bring her work to an absent but potentially Stone is a cyborg in the sense, that as Haraway has put
it: "we are all cyborgs/. However, Stone is the Lestat
figure, a boundary creature, a transgendered being who
inhabits the Net. Both inside it and outside in the world,
her image is one that is continually morphing with the aid
of technology. Her work is performance and, as she says:
"gender is a performance that we allleam to do from
birth, and...by the time we are old enough to notice that
we are performing, we have gotten the act down so well
that its wholly artificial nature is invisible even to us. uSHer
interest in shifting identities in cyberspace led her to a
study of Internet sex.
Internet chat is safe contact; you don't have to deal with
face to face contact, with body image, race, creed or
colour. Telephone sex is the safe sex of the HIV / AIDS era,
present audience, and computer software programs to bumping together the idea of merging bodies, without the
redesign her facial features, is theoretically engaged with fluids. In telephone sex, there is an assumption that
the notions of difference. This difference is not just a someone is getting aroused, it's also a hell of a lot easier to
desire for individuality at a time in which woman are talk to someone without having to deal with their
encouraged to conform to Western ideals of beauty and physicality. Balsamo has pointed out that "intimacy is
sameness. But a difference that applaUdS the defective, a now redefined as a quality of interaction between the
nostalgic return to a time of aberrant creatures with human body and the machine".9
physical deformities which were usually hidden or According to Stone: "From my point of view, the more I
paraded around as curiosities. In this way she alerts us to observed phone sex the more I realised I was observing
the way that replication can destroy the original. Her very practical applications of data compreSSion. Usually
operation/performances speak of the disappearance of sex involves as many of the senses as possible. Taste,
the original body into the simulacrum, the primacy of touch, smell, sight, hearing - and, for all I know, short
images in Western society, and technological image range psychic interactions - all work together to heighten
construction. Orlan's transgression is to act against an the erotic sense.'IO So, for Stone body sensations are data;
idea of order, and against a hierarchy that places mind information that the body collects or receives in order to
over body. She works against representations of the be aroused. Phone sex workers compress data into an
female body as given, and pushes the body into another audible form. Very much like (and she does talk about
realm in which her body shifts and morphs, meshing past this), the way radio compressed speed and sound and
with future, blurring foreground and background description to conjure up reality. The focus here is on
together in a total immersion of surface and texture. hearing - words and intonation, suggesting body and
Although her operation/performances could be seen as an authority. Words evoke memories, so they are prompters

ARTllNK 68 VOl 16 NO 2&3


to the clients' own imagination. VVhere there is no image, All of this discourse in cyberspace is an attempt to inject
we can provi.de one, drawing on a huge repertoire that a sense of body into a very cerebral zone. If the electronic
has already been given, and cyberspace, which offers a landscape has bodies, then they are bodies that have been
space for difference, may in fact become a dumping constructed through imaging software and human
ground for cultural debris (Kroker) and simply replicate imagination.
stereotypes. It may be that the electronic landscape creates a place to
In cyberspace, virtual bodies are metaphoric. The dream, and exhibits our nostalgia for a time long passed,
coupling is imaginary; sure there is a body at the other when there was a sense of sharing and of community.
end of the computer, and if you want to imagine the body Perhaps we are compensating through technological
you can (in fact it is essential), but the only body is the interface for a loss, and have a real desire for face to face,
'body in the text', the body as spoken. Desire is created in body to body couplings. 0
text. In a recent French film, City of Lost Children."
Directors Jeunet and Caro explore desire through Krank,
who is suffering from premature ageing
because he has lost the capacity to dream.
Krank kidnaps children in order to steal
their dreams, and dons a fantastic helmet,
an aberration of virtual reality headsets,
that both he and they must wear in order
for the exchange to take place. He becomes
child, and instead of the dream of pleasure
that a return to Childhood, and
imagination would bring, he experiences
nightmare. In the film, desire is
represented as lack, as negative, and,
throughout the film, dream is equated
with virtual space, that is both inside and
outside of the body, to be accessed by
technology. In this case Krank is shown to
experience his dream wide awake,
alluding again to "a consensual
hallucination" 12 suggested by Gibson, when describing
cyberspace. It's interesting that Jeunet and Cara bypass
the screen, instead the human body is producer of, and
receiver of images, donor and patient; the interface is 1. William Gibson Neuromancer, Grafton, Harper Collins London
body to body, subverting the bodies without organs 1986 p67.
2. Op Cit. p72.
(Deleuze via Artaud) of the body electric. 3. Donna Haraway Simians, Cyborgs and Women, The
The electronic absent body drifts through telephone and Reinvention of Nature, Free Association Books London, 1991
network cables. Soliciting attention, inviting seduction. p150.
4. Allucquere Rosanne Stone The War of Desire and Technology
Never truly absent, it inhabits borders, skirts around the and the End of the Mechanical Age, The MIT Press, Cambridge
edge of material existence. Telephone sex then, with soft Mass, London England 1995 p178.
and muted sounds; the body always at the point of crash, 5. Allucquere Rosanne Stone 'Will the Real Body Please Stand
Up', Cyberspace First Steps ed Michael Benedikt, The MIT Press
the caller could hang up, the line disconnected! There is an Cambridge Mass, London England 1991 pl13
urgency in cyberspace interactions because bodies are not 6. Allucquere Rosanne Stone Web site
http.. / /www.actlab.utexas.edu/
easily located, they are somewhere away from us; free 7. Francis Barker "The Tremulous Private Body" Essays in
floating molecules ready to group and ungroup, cut and Subjection, London Methuen 1984 p103
8. Allucquere Rosanne Stone 'Transgender' article, Web site, op
paste into different identity modes. Or the electronic
cit.
visual image as body, is infinitely reproducible, so much 9. Anne Balsamo Technologies of the Gendered Body - Reading
so that we no longer know where the body resides. Either Cyborg Women Duke University Press, p132.
10. Allucquere Rosanne Stone The War of Desire p6.
way, the electronic body is the other of the real body that 11. City of Lost Children directed by Jeunet and Caro, 1996, A
we want to inhabit. Viral and predatory, we are one and Constellation, Lumiere, Le Studio Canal, France 3 Cinema pro-
the other and there is no escape! We are always projecting duction.
12.William Gibson ibid p67.
across distances; the technosphere is only one more
landscape to wrap our minds around.

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