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TUCoPS :: Cyber Culture :: stelarc.txt

The Cyberhuman

Article 9649 of alt.cyberpunk:
Newsgroups: alt.cyberpunk
Subject: Cyberhuman - Article about Stelarc (I-D feb 1992)
Message-ID: <>
Date: 15 Jul 92 05:49:34 GMT
Lines: 122
Organisation: innocent bystanders

from: I-D Magazine, Februari 1992


Performance artist Stelarc believes we can improve the human body.
Take out natural organs. Install improved artificial ones. Add a
third hand. Or virtual limbs. Is he a space cadet or a future
human ?

In these times of health fascism and body image disorder, even the most
toned-up can always find something that needs a little more work. But
hardly anyone can be prepared to take things as far as the Australian
performance artist Stelarc. When he looks in the mirror in the
morning, he sees a body that isn't so much out of condition as
obsolete, something that doesn't need a weekly workout so much a total
workover. "The only was I see is that the body is mass produced but at
the moment it doesn't have any replaceable parts. OK, we're making
artificial organs. But this is just a medical approach. What we
really need is a design approach. If you have a heart that wears out
after 70 years, this to me is an engineering problem. We should start
to re-engineer the body."
Over here recently to plan a performance for the EDGE'92 festival
which will take place in London and Madrid in May, Stelarc gave a
presentation on his work to the Blue Skies conference on art and
technology in Newcastle. Listening to him ponder his various plans to
hollow out the body and fill it full of useful high test machinery in
preparation for a life in space, you might have been forgiven for
thinking he'd already severed most of his links with the planet.
However, he can't just be written off as an art world space cadet.
Over the last 20 years, in performances involving sensory deprivation,
suspending himself in mid-air, wiring his body for sound, filming his
insides and hooking himself up to a robotic 'third hand' to stage odd
little test runs/dramas which mix up the 'natural' and the automated,
Stelard has made compelling use of body art to bring into focus the
possible fate of the body in post-human age.
Consequently he's becoming a big hit with critics like postmodern
panic theorists Arthur and Marilouise Kroker. Echoing their
fin-de-millenium terminology, Stelarc himself talks about living in
the last day of the human, a post-Frankensteinian world, in which the
boundary between humans and machines already blurred. With cosmetic
surgery anlmost an impulse purchase these days and people talking
seriously about leaving their bodies behind to enter the digital
landscape of a virtual world, it's easy to see his point.
What's challenging is the the upbeat spin he gives al this. We may
turn into weird technological hybrids of flesh and metal, we may even
become the aliens UFO spotters expect to appear from the skies, but
for Stelarc this isn't depressing or frightening, its exciting,
something to celebrate. At the Blue Skies conference, Stelarc's own
expanations of his work had an ecstatic, deliberately confrontational
edge, and contained mainly of snappy slogans and aphorisms ("The
important thing now isn't freedom of information, but freedom of form,
freedom to mutate and modify your body"; "Information, not gravity, is
the force field which will modify and shape the body of the future"),
the effect of which was heightened by his rumbling cartoon mad
scientist laugh.
He's good enough to suggest that he could carve out an alternative
career as a stand-up theorist (like the Krokers) or even a cyberpunk
SF author. Perhaps he could even cut it as a research boffin. Although
his jerky third hand may seem more then a primitive gesture, it
invited NASA enough for them to invite him over to lecture their
scientists about how it worked. Currently he's based at the advanced
Computer Graphics Centre, where he's experimenting with a 'third arm'
and virtual limbs. However, Stelarc says his work isn't about hard
science, that it's just a playful exploration of technological
possibilities. Playful isn't quite how you'd describe his suspensions.
Here hooks were inserted into his body and he was suspended naked over
different landscapes and cities (he was arrested when he tried it in
New York). At first sight, the supensions seem to slot into a well
established tradition of body art, concerned with reinventing
religious details rituals of pain and endurance. Although he admits
that they were painful, Stelarc distances himself from what he sees as
the outdated fundamentalism of much body art. The suspensions are
about exploring "the primal image of the body in space. We dream of
flying. There were lots if primitive rituals which involve suspending
the body and now we have astronauts floating in zero g."
At the Blue Skies conference, Stelarc faced a similar set of
objections from feminist and Green critics who argued that he was just
a future jock hung up on techno-visions, another boy dangerously
obsessed with his toys.
Certainly, it could be argued that Stelarc has constructed his
blueprints for the body of the future in a social vacuum. Perhaps the
potential will exist in the future for people to redesign their
bodies. But it seems likely that this kind of thing will only be
available to the rich, and that it will be accompanied by a kind of
de-evolution amongst the poor. However, his performances are obviously
attempts to rethink our current attitudes to technology and to look
beyond paranoid scenarios about machines 'taking over'. If you think
about it, a few hundred years ago a persion with an rtificial hart
would have been burned at the stake. Overall, I think we're projecting
our rather obsolete emotions onto machines. There's no reason for
these machines to be imbued with agression like us. The problem is
really a human one. We're carrying around this evolutionary baggage of
agression and jealousy, this chemistry that generates survival
instincts, which we don't really need anymore. In fact, in a
technologically enhanced world, perhaps these emotional urges are
amplified to the point of being destructive, of threatening the whole
For Stelarc, the idea that we can turn back from technology is the
real fantasy. We will develop with it anyway so we might as well start
thinking about how to exert a measure of control over the whole
process. As he might put it, it's time for jacking your body for real.

Stelarc will be in Britain in May at the EDGE'92 festival. Call 071
377 0009 for more d-tails. | VMB:+31 20 6001480 *109# | UTOPIA BBS: +31206273860

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