PARASITE VISIONS ALTERNATE, INTIMATE AND INVOLUNTARY EXPERIENCES.
Australian based performance artist Stelarc has been experimenting with new approaches to the internet in the recent years.
In the course of time he has wired his body (with a 3rd electronic limb) to the internet so that it can be controlled externally; has organized to implant a 3rd ear – one which will emit rather than receive sounds; and has wired his body to act as a projector for randomly retrieved jpeg images from the web, such that these simultaneously cause involuntary muscle movements (which are then mapped in realtime VRML). Nowadays he’s walking around in a specially constructed 6 legged pneumatically powered walking exoskeleton.
You’ve been based in Australia for awhile now, but I understand you’ve spent much of your life in Japan as well…
I lived in Japan for almost 20 years. But having decided to pursue performance full-time the last 12 years it’s meant being constantly on the move. I’m out of Australia 9-10 months of the year, doing performances and presentations mostly in Europe (and occasionally in Japan and the USA)…
Physical space itself seems to be increasingly less important nowadays… how do you think this is affecting our sense of physical and mental orientation?
Well, going somewhere else used to be special. When you’re everywhere all the time the experience of space is more fluid and less discontinuous. You have to cope with different currencies and different cultures on a constant basis. You can’t take things for granted and you have to communicate with different people in alternate situations. Often this results in more stimulation, but with feelings of insecurity. It can be devastating with your personal relationships and an experience of functioning at greater speeds and with less connectivity. But it is possible to improvise, to communicate with email, that allows you to somewhat cope….
Which of course brings us to the internet and virtual communities. In performances such as Fractal Flesh (1995 “Telepolis” event), and – there was a sense in which boundaries of ‘self’ and ‘body’ were relinquished; that the internet community could exist as a kind of organism, aware and responding to itself – how close do you feel this has come toward being realised?
Well, there is a need to distinguish between what actually happens in individual and particular situations and in speculation about the internet becoming some imaginary construct or community.
Fractal Flesh was this particular and peculiar experience of becoming a split body, simultaneously coping with the a remote agent and this local agency . Someone, somewhere else could access your body and actuate it. From their point of view they were extruding their awareness and action into another body elsewhere. From my point of view, I became a host for the behavior of a remote agent. I could see the face of the person programming me. They could see their projected, but my involuntary motion. This body performed with displaced desire. An intimacy without skin contact, an intimacy without proximity.
So in these scenarios and performances, the internet is experienced as not merely a medium for the transmission of information and images but as a means by which bodies spatially separated but electronically connected can physically interact. Or that biological bodies can be augmented by an external electronic nervous system.
With the new Movatar project, what is being explored is the possibility that an intelligent, autonomous and operational avatar might be able to perform in the real world by accessing a physical body. The Movatar possesses the body and the body becomes the medium of its expression. The body itself then becomes a prosthesis for the avatar to manifest its motions and emotions in the world…
Most of your work seems to be conceptual, and yet the stills, sounds and images are often extremely powerful or confronting – as an artist what importance do you place on the visual representation of your work?
Ideas are only interesting if they become actual. I’ve always said that ideas are authenticated by actions. What’s interesting is the experience of alternate interfaces with technology that construct new possibilities and thereby generate further ideas. The performances should be characterized more by their physicality, than by their conceptual raison d’etre….
So what are you up to now, and what are some of your plans for the future – and when do we get to see you back home?
I’m presently performing with the Exoskeleton walking machine in Europe till July (Germany, the Czech Republic and Italy). This was recently completed as part of my Hamburg residency. The robot is a 6-legged pneumatically actuated machine whose leg movements are controlled by my arm gestures. The bipedal human gait is translated into insect-like locomotion. As part of the exoskeleton, a 9 degree of freedom manipulator extends my right arm. It has individual finger motions, thumb and wrist rotation and each finger opens and closes to become individual grippers.
The pneumatic sounds, valve relay switch clicks, mechanical motions and the electrical signals from the manipulator are acoustically amplified. Its a sound machine as well as a locomotor. I compose the sounds by choreographing the movements.
Should be back in Australia in August for a month and a half….
Although hard to catch up with ‘in the flesh’, you might want to peep his work at www.stelarc.va.com.au.
Note!: The picture above is permitted by Stelarc.
You are not allowed to take any copies and redistribute them.
Text: Adam Hulbert