not long ago i had a chance to see stelarc talk. he has a fellowship at the local university, and has been teaching and working here for past few months. born in australia, this 50+ man pranced around the stage like a little whimsical wizard of oz, showing slides and videos of his early performances and pausing for a moment to explode with brief demonic laughter while clenching his belly with little hands.
in early 70s, determined to realize and explore artaud's "body without organs" concept, he began with the series of suspensions and sensory deprivation experiments. another attempt at attaining a state of BwO was "stomach sculpture," placed into the stomach cavity and rendering body as a host, an empty body through the means of addition. although stelarc did suspensions until the late 80s, his work shifted to more generalized area of creating interfaces to and for the body. these ideas of manipulated body, involuntary body, body as a host found further expression through the means of robotics and prosthetics.
in the early 90s the internet created another impetus for his work further exploring the concepts of split body (bodies operating with multiple agents) and obsolete body. for one of his most impressive installations (especially considering the time), the left part of his body was controlled via the internet from multiple points throughout the world (VRML model in a browser, transferring signals to electrodes attached to his muscles), becoming a host to a collective of people that were projecting their physical presence through the body. meanwhile, the right side of his body as well as attached prosthetic limbs were being controlled by the amplified data from contact microphones attached to the left part of his body. hence, "what becomes important is not the body's identity, but its connectivity."
an interesting fact is that stelarc has always performed naked, which is only logical, considering the required intimacy between the manipulator and the body.
yet another side of his work (that is particularly appealing to me) is using the body to create sound and visuals, amplifying the reaction of the body to being manipulated. with the aid of contact microphones and various sensors, electrodes, and EMG data the reaction of the body was externalized. stelarc goes further, using the sound emitted by his body to control prosthetics and other parts of his body (his last suspension underneath the rail tracks featured a prosthetic "third arm" that was controlled/moved by the amplified sounds of his body).
just think about someone like skincage (or any other musician with the "appropriate" sound and aesthetics) doing a live performance with such suspended body that serves as a live sample material for the musician that would manipulate the sounds and send them back to control the body; add a VJ doing the same with the sound input (and possibly serving as yet another sampling material for the musician).
another internet-related project was titled "parasite." a customized search engine was pulling the images off the internet, displaying them on the body and controlling body's muscle responses according to the data in the images. the images of the body were uploaded to the website, potentially serving as yet another recursive input. thus, the body was "feeling," "reacting" to the sensory data. its nervous system was extended to include the internet.
stelarc goes further, seeing internet as a "mode of transduction," making it possible for a body with appropriate interfaces to be manipulated by multiple agents (and clusters of agents).
the most impressive about stelarc is the fact that he has a conceptual vision, using the technology for the artistic purposes, pulling it all together to express his ideas. citing virilio, wittgenstein, foucault among others, he places his work in context, as opposed to exploiting purely technical phenomena. he does not have all the knowledge himself, but he is able to gather the people that make his ideas possible. perhaps it does take someone like stelarc with his fervently amateurish, at times even contrived, approach to explore and subvert art and science. if nothing else, he has served as an inspiration for many.