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Virtually Stelarc

Boris Kelly

Boris Kelly is a writer for stage, screen and media He lives in Queanbeyan, NSW. [expired]
The Stelarc Web site is a triumph of simplicity. Given the weighty complexity of the technological and theoretical terrain inhabited by Australia’s most enduring and original performance artist it could easily have been otherwise. Images of the artist suspended sixty metres above a Tokyo street; operating his robotic third arm; or microfilm representations of his internally implanted ‘stomach sculpture’ elicit the kind of fascination reserved for the truly exotic, in respect of which Stelarc is in a league of his own. The artist’s Web site is useful in that it allows the viewer to understand something of Stelarc’s intentions in making works of art which can be so viscerally affecting as to obscure the intellectual property which supports them. It does so with the simplest of devices.

The Home Page presents an arresting collage of images from Stelarc’s performances which can take some time to download, so after an initial visit it is advisable, if using Netscape, to switch off Auto Image Loading. The menu offers a selection of documents, each a brief statement from the artist, alluding to a particular phase of his work. Titles include: Amplified Body, Fractal Flesh, Obsolete Body, Redesigning the Body, The Hum of the Hybrid and The Shedding of Skin, among others. The statements are succinct, transparent and provocative. For example:

It is no longer a matter of perpetuating the human species by REPRODUCTION, but of enhancing male-female intercourse by human-machine interface. THE BODY IS OBSOLETE. We are at the end of philosophy and human physiology. Human thought recedes into the human past.

Stelarc’s preoccupation is with the transcendence of the body beyond its biologically determined, psycho-physical limits in preparation for an extraterrestrial future. On this point he is quite explicit, particularly when referring to his Shedding of Skin project, the intention of which is to develop a synthetic skin capable of photosynthesising chemical nutrients. In Stelarc’s work, Deleuze and Guattari’s Body Without Organs strives to find a material form.

Off the Earth, the body’s complexity, softness and wetness would be difficult to sustain. The strategy should be to HOLLOW, HARDEN and DEHYDRATE the body to make it more durable and less vulnerable.

Elsewhere the artist has suggested that to remain on Earth would be a suicidal mistake for the human race and that the best option is extraterrestrial migration facilitated by a hybridisation of biology and technology of the kind speculated on in Stelarc’s work. In holding these views the artist finds himself in the company of luminaries like American spacecat Dr Timothy Leary who, since his ‘halcyonagenic’ days in the 60s, has busied himself as an advocate for and investor in the intergalactic removal business.

Stelarc proposes, without a hint of the romantic, that redesigning the body should be driven by its need to match the efficiency of technology, which at present it does not. Instead of moaning about post-modern disorders such as ‘information overload’ we should hybridise machine and body so that the human form can function efficiently in the face of unrelenting, technological forward motion. Once the skin is shed we literally begin to exist outside the obsolete construct of the self. Even our dreams, imagination, images will run more efficiently in a technological as opposed to a biopsychic medium. According to Stelarc:

Virtual reality technology allows a transgression of boundaries between male/female, human/machine, time/space. The self becomes situated beyond the skin. This is not a disconnecting or a splitting, but an EXTRUDING OF AWARENESS. What it means to be human is no longer the state of being immersed in genetic memory but rather in being reconfigured in the electromagnetic field of the circuit—IN THE REALM OF THE IMAGE.

The Web site, which also contains brief biographical notes, forces the visitor to engage with the ideas which dwell behind the raw shock of Stelarc. In this respect it is well conceived and designed with a minimal elegance by Gary Zebington of Merlin Integrated Media. Having gained an insight into the motivations and intentions of the artist one is better equipped to appreciate the power of his performance work. However, those who enjoy the exquisite kiss, the quiet joys of digesting a long lunch or the sensation of time as vapour in daydreaming may not be so enthusiastic about Stelarc’s preferred future. Indeed, some would suggest that Stelarc—who has unsuccessfully applied for inclusion in a NASA mission—should get on board the next departing Timothy Leary Intergalactic Express.

I have secretly held until now a hairbrained theory that Mars was once occupied by Europeans who, having expunged that planet of all carbonaceous life to the point of a chafed redness, transmigrated their way of life to the nearby blue planet. This would explain the current preoccupation with effecting a similar scenario here on Earth in the late 20th century. Stelarc’s work and the Blade Runner ideas informing it represent the most blatant form of abdication of responsibility for the viability of human life cloaked in a rational, dispassionate discourse. Having visited his Web site I suspect my hairbrained theory is at least as plausible as his nightmare vision and, for the record, I for one have no intention of surrendering my organs nor quitting the exquisite kiss.

Boris Kelly is a writer for stage, screen and media He lives in Queanbeyan, NSW.

RealTime issue #11 Feb-March 1996 pg. 25

© Boris Kelly; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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