STELARC

“STELARC is an Australian-based performance artist whose work explores and extends the concept of the body and its relationship with technology through human-machine interfaces incorporating medical imaging, prosthetics, robotics, VR, systems and the Internet. The interest is in alternate, intimate and involuntary experiences” – http://www.stelarc.va.com.au/arcx.html

In the context of this weeks theme “Body as Medium”, the work of Stelarc can be considered as an interesting case study. Stelarc explores both the concrete, physical and flesh body and virtual bodies, extended by technology. His website shows his projects and thought, I have chosen a couple of those ideas to discuss. Stelarc states that our body has become obsolete. In other words, out of date, or no longer in general use: ‘We are at the end of philosophy and human physiology’. The body must be redesigned, Virtual Reality technology offers the possibility to go beyond the limits of the physical body: ‘the self becomes situated beyond the skin’.

Trying to put into practice those thought, Stelarc developed various projects. For example the Robot Arm, where the human body is connected with sensors to a robot arm. Here, the movement of the body determines the images on screens. Another project is Hollow Body / Hollow Space, where the inside of the human body literally becomes the artwork, as it is showed on screens through a camera that is swallowed. Also worth noting: the idea of the body that is wired into the Net: a concept that connects the physical body to other physical bodies in other places.

Questions:

In my opinion, the idea of connecting physical bodies with the Net, could be seen as an augmentation of the body in space. Also other concepts refer to the presence of multiple levels of bodies. I wonder how we could see this relation between bodies and spaces. Is it for example possible that a physical body operates at virtual level? Or vice versa, a virtual body in concrete space? Do you think that Stelarc provides us with examples of going beyond our flesh body?

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~ by fabree on February 23, 2009.

7 Responses to “STELARC”

  1. The funny thing is that while Stelarc poses that the body has become obsolete, he is exactly turning towards the body, showing how many possibilties it actually has.
    It is hard to say something about physical bodies in virtual space or vice versa, because of the unclearness of the concept “virtual”. In a way we could say that even the real, physical world is virtual, because we can only perceive it by using our senses and understand and talk about it through symbols and signs. Thus, I do not think that we should see the physical and the virtual as two different worlds but rather as interconnected, in which the virtual is another (more conceptual) dimension or level.
    And the Stelarc projects make the virtual possibilties of the physical body clear, by using technologies so that we can view in in a broader way (i.e. the inside of the body projected on screens, not a usual way in which we perceive the body).
    On the other hand, the exoskeleton (walking machine), actually uses the physical body in physical space. What might be going beyond the flesh body in this case are the ideas it brings up about our own mobility and speed (why do we walk the way we do, and could this be different)

  2. I feel that while Stelarc emphases on his site and the texts it contains that the body is obsolete whereas the performances he presents are turning our gaze towards the body. I saw them as ways to take the body further, to explore the possibilities new technologies offer and state new limits for the body functions and not as “proof” that the body is out of date. Especially for instance in performances that have him hanging from some sort of hooks the skin becomes extremely visible.

    THE BODY NOW PERFORMS BEST AS ITS IMAGE.
    Criticizers of the possibilities of virtual worlds argue that it will affect our perception and make the real seem less real (like Turkle does in her book Life on the screen, where she says that not only virtual experiences have the tendency to make “denatured and artificial experiences seem real” but they can also result in situations where “the fake seems more compelling than the real.”)
    However Stelarc seems to argue that functioning in a virtual world ‘is not a disconnecting or a splitting’ but something that comes natural and should be seen as an evolution. Therefore in a way challenges us to think of our definition of what we refer to as real (or why should the physical world be referred to as the real world).

  3. “Can the physical body operate on a virtual level” – This is a question I think not enough people have actually asked when dealing with the issues of virtual reality. It depends on the definition of operation. There are current studies going on dealing with brain waves – from the human mind – to operate virtual characters using tactile interfaces on the chest – does this count as the physical body operating on a virtual level? What about a person controlling a digital character in a game such a World of Warcraft? Is that a body operating on a virtual level? Or does it take a body to feel sensations from the digital in the physical in order to be deemed “operational”? What about the Wii? Is that considered for the physical operating on a virtual level?

    “Virtual body in concrete space?” – Again all depends on definition of virtual body. If virtual body refers to simply an image of a body in a concrete space, then this has potentially already occurred. A sort of “holographic image” if you would. CNN’s election coverage of the 2008 presidential election boasted they would use holographic image technology – which it appears they did – to show the reporter through hologram rather than her image simply via video as is normally done. ( see l ink for both video and discussion over whether or not CNN actually achieved what they said they did. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ym-l8sawgyw ) However, if you mean an A.I. intelligence becoming physical and operational in physical space (i.e. holodeck doctors on star trek), obviously this has not been achieved yet. Can it be achieved? I believe it can, however, perhaps another question to address in this class is “how would virtual bodies in concrete space change our perceptions of what is virtual and what is physical?”
    It is interesting also, as others have stated, he seems to believe the “body is obsolete” yet, as others have also pointed out, he uses the body for everything, only modifications of the body. Therefore perhaps a more accurate statement for him would be “the body ALONE is obsolete”. As far as “going beyond our own bodies” I actually think looking at current scientific work in prosthetics is far more interesting. Look at the case of Touch Bionics, creators of the first artificial bionic hand for prosthetics ( http://www.touchbionics.com/ ). Isn’t this more of a true extension, as it is even replacing a body part with machine allowing us to truly “go beyond our own bodies”?

  4. It seems that the answers shift this rather ontological question towards epistemological reasonings on what we know or consider to be body and virtual. I guess, this is exactly what Stelarc points at with is work, to quote him, ‘the body that goes beyond evolution’. Indeed I would agree that it all comes down to the correlation of body and space.

  5. For the nasty side of bodily extension please have a look at the following The Yes Men clip (no, not the jim carey movie):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yK9Cs_UcTEE (You cannot post youtubes in comments, or can you?; for their website see http://theyesmen.org.)
    This could serve as a warning that, although there are obvious advantages of new media/extension, from an ethical point of view such extensions can turn out to be anti-democratic, or at least unfavorable to some if applied “unjustly.”
    Artist like STELARC can only play their small part in this “warning”; but it is a start.

  6. Klaas, thanks for a rather entertaining link 🙂 although I am not sure I am following your train of thought regarding Stelarc’s art as a warning. And I think The Yes Men work on quite a different level compared to Stelarc.

    Your clip reminds me of an anecdote where two speeches were scheduled in the same town – one was to be given by a comedian and the other one by a pastor. The two ended up messing up their venues, however, performed as they intended to. The audiences didn’t seem to notice…

  7. Now here’s a cyborg… http://thenextweb.com/2009/03/18/true-geek-man-replaces-finger-lost-accident-usb-drive/

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