Stelarc: The Evolutionary Alchemy of Reason (AN EXCERPT

)
BRIAN MASSUMl

"What is important is the body as an object, not a subject-not being a particular someone but rather becoming something else."

"Information is the prosthesis that props up the obsolete body." -Stelarc

BODY SUSPENSIONS EVENTS (1976-88)

Stelarc’s early body suspensions were careful, calculated, literally antiseptic. They weren’t shamanistic or mystical or ecstatic. And they most certainly weren’t masochistic. The pain wasn’t sought after or reveled in. It was a soberly accepted byproduct of the project. The point was never to awe the audience with the artist’s courage or hubris. Neither was it to treat the audience to a dramatic staging of symbolic suffering in order to shed light on or heal some supposedly founding agony of the human subject. Stelarc applies instrumental reason-careful, calculated, medically-assisted procedure-to the body, taken as an object, in order to extend intelligence into space, by means of a suspension. Now how does suspending the body-object extend intelligence? And what is the something else the body becomes, beyond its objectivity and subjectivity?

above left: Rock Suspension, Tokyo above right: Sculpture Space Suspension, UNAM, Mexico City facing page: The Third Hand, Yokohama

To begin to answer these questions, it is necessary to clarify what precisely is suspended. It is not simply the actual body of the artist. By targeting the body as object, Stelarc is targeting the generality of the body. The suspended body is a sensible concept: the implications of the event are felt first, before being thought out. The apparatus of suspension set up the body’s relation to itself as a problem, a compulsion, and construed that problem in terms of force. The basic device employed was, after all, an interruption of the body’s necessary relation to the grounding force of human action: gravity. The hooks turned the skin into a counter-gravity machine.

THIRD ARM EVENTS (1981-94) The operation in play in this project is about extension as opposed to substitution, or what is commonly called prosthesis. The robotic Third Arm attaches to the right flesh arm. It does not replace it. It is a "prosthesis" in the etymological sense of the word, "to put in addition to." As an addition, it belongs to an order of superposition. The tendency of Stelarc’s events is toward superposition. The body is probed so that its inside is also an exterior. The body inputs information into the computer in order to express it or relay it as a force: the body places itself between information and force. The left side of the body receives programmed gestures fed in from a machine, which it then transducer into involuntary gestures: programmed and

Fractal Flesh Telepolls (Helsinki-Luxembourg)

unfoldable-exteriority that is as susceptible to transductive connection as any sampling of body-substance. The body is hollow. There is nothing insidethere is no inside as such for anything to be in, interiority being only a particular relationship of the exterior to itself.

EXTRA EAR (1997-98) Having a Third Hand, the body will construct an extra ear. This will be positioned on the side of the face beside the right ear. A balloon will be inserted beneath the skin and gradually inflated for an estimated four-to-six weeks until an adequate bubble of stretched skin is formed. The balloon is then removed and a cartilage or plastic ear framework is inserted in the excess bag of skin. A cosmetic or plastic surgeon will then cut, nip, tuck, and sew the skin over the underlying ear structure. The Extra Ear will retain feeling, but, of course, it will not be able to hear. It is intended that this ear will speak. An implanted sound chip will be actuated by a proximity sensor whenever another body gets close enough. Ultimately, the aim will be for one ear to whisper sweet nothings into the other ear. STELARC

FRACTAL FLESH-SPLIT BODY: VOLTAGE IN/VOLTAGE OUT (1995) Here, the body was plugged into the World Wide Web via electrodes connected to the body. The body and Third Arm were situated in Luxembourg, and people in seven cities around the world were invited to gather at specially networked terminals where they could remotely control the body’s gestures. Others were encouraged to log in through their regular Internet connections. The audience is let into the loop. It becomes part of the performance. The distance between the performer and the spectator is abolished. Sensation has unfolded into a transindividual feedback loop of action-reaction, stimulusresponse. The performance potentializes a material interconnection of bodies.