Stelarc: Installation of augmented parts come from my own cells
IN each of his performances, Stelarc remains expressionless, even when he is being pierced by metal hooks and hung in mid-air.
OFFSTAGE, he has a warm personality with a distinctive laugh: as if everything he is saying is of great amusement. Follows excerpts of Tempo’s interview with Stelarc.
What started you off into exploring the limits of the body in your art?
I started to do performance in art school when I discovered I was a bad painter, (laughs). But I was always interested in the human body—the evolutionary development of the human body—and how physiology determines our philosophy; how we see, how we think, how we feel, it’s our experience of the world. So, I was always interested in the limitations of the human body. Initially, I did some sensory deprivation and physical-stressed performances, and then my suspension performances.
In my performances, I discovered that the body is inadequate. It is soft, it is very vulnerable. It is easily infected by microbiological life that it cannot even see. If its internal temperature goes down some degrees, it is in serious health risk. If it loses body fluids, it’s dead. The span of life is only 80 years, then it deteriorates, and it dies. So, do we accept the limitations of the human body, or do we try augmented technology? Do we try to genetically intervene? Do we think of redesigning the human body? That’s the kind of background of my interest.
What was your first work?
The first thing I did was I inserted three cameras into my body. Not for any medical reason, just for artistic gesture. I was helped by doctors to do so. I filmed about three meters of internal space, including my lungs and intestines. From the show I discovered that the human body is not a solid muscular and skeleton structure as seen by eyes. There are empty spaces in the human body.
How did you convince doctors to help?
(Laughing) It was with great difficulty. It is not easy to convince them because the medical community is essentially conservative. But we know that the medical community does experiments. If someone is very ill, on a terminal deathbed, has a serious accident, or is very old, sometimes doctors do experiments. Surgeons do experimental surgery. So, I was very fortunate to find different medical people who became interested in my ideas and were willing to help.
Your yourself are no surgeon. How do you plan the various medical procedure related to your performance work?
I get inputs from surgeons and technicians. You have an idea. For example, in Stomach Sculpture. When I looked at the sculpture from the inside of my stomach, of course I had to think of a design that was reliable. It had to fit inside the stomach, but when it is inside the stomach, it needs to open and close, extending light and beeping sounds. I had to find someone who would assist me in designing the video device, and a surgeon to do the procedure.
How do you fund your work?
It is always a problem to get funding. For example, the ear in the arm project needed 10 years to get enough funds. And it’s still not finished. I still need an operation to connect the ear to the Internet. The piece is far from finished.
Let’s discuss your outstanding work, the Ear in the Arm. Why did you feel you needed a third ear?
Before it, I had done a third arm project, using robotics fixed onto my body. But it was a device that was merely stuck onto a human body. I thought I should create an augmented body part, but one that uses my own cells, my own skin, a device that is partly constructed, but is also partly grown by the body itself. It grew its own cells, and now has its own blood supply. In the end it has become a part of my body.
1996 – Honorary Professor of Art and Robotics, Carnegie Mellon University
2002 – Honorary Doctorate of Law, Monash University
2010 – Recipient of Ars Electronica Hybrid Arts Prize
v2016 – Honorary Doctorate, Ionian University, Corfu
And the aim was to increase your hearing capacity?
No. I have two perfect ears. The idea was for the ear to be able to hear voices from anywhere to be listened to by anybody. If you are in Jakarta and I am in Melbourne, you can access whatever it is being heard by this ear. Wherever you are, and wherever I happen to be.
Many of your performances involve procedures that look immensely painful, such as the suspension performance. Do you train your body specifically to withstand pain?
There is no special training, because you cannot test this sort of action before you do them. Of course, you can test the technology. But you cannot do a trial surgery, a trial suspension, or do a trial internal sculpture for your body. You try to plan adequately, make sure all the problems have been solved to your best capability. But when you do the performance, it’s usually the first time.
MOYANG KASIH DEWIMERDEKA