Ste­larc

Per­for­mance Artist and Dis­tin­guished Re­search Fel­low, School of Design & Art, Curtin Univer­sity Perth, 71

Esquire (Singapore) - - Contents -

Per­for­mance artist.

Our bod­ies are in­cred­i­bly soft and very vul­ner­a­ble. We have a limited longevity. We are con­stantly as­saulted by micro­organ­isms that are com­pletely in­vis­i­ble to us. We are now over­whelmed with in­for­ma­tion and have to func­tion in a realm of ab­strac­tion, as most of the in­for­ma­tion gen­er­ated can­not be di­rectly ex­pe­ri­enced. It can only be ex­pe­ri­enced through in­stru­men­ta­tion that pro­vides us un­ex­pected im­ages and in­for­ma­tion that di­min­ish our sub­jec­tiv­ity. So, yes, I think the body is ob­so­lete.

I guess this might be a flip­pant an­swer, but I be­came in­ter­ested in per­for­mance, in us­ing my body for artis­tic ex­pres­sion, when I re­alised I was a bad painter in art school. Hav­ing said that, I was al­ways in­ter­ested in the evo­lu­tion­ary ar­chi­tec­ture of the hu­man body and the al­ter­nate anatomies of in­sects and an­i­mals who in­ter­act so dif­fer­ently.

I did a con­tin­u­ous per­for­mance for six days where I stitched my lips and eye­lids shut with sur­gi­cal nee­dle and thread. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t see, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t drink, and my body was con­nected to the gallery wall with steel ca­bles linked to two hooks in my back. The gallery was very cold. I be­gan to ques­tion why I was do­ing this and how mean­ing­ful it might be to oth­ers who came to the gallery. It was never meant to be a cathar­tic ex­pe­ri­ence. You gen­er­ate ideas, you try to ac­tu­alise them, but in do­ing so, you can also have mis­giv­ings. But this is, I guess, part of be­ing hu­man.

We are born, we rapidly de­velop, be­come ma­ture, and then just when we ex­pe­ri­ence a cer­tain un­der­stand­ing of the world, we quickly de­te­ri­o­rate, and then we die. [ Laughs] I mean, this is the kind of life that we live. In a way, the body is fa­tally de­signed. We can ei­ther ac­cept the bi­o­log­i­cal sta­tus quo, or we can dis­card the idea of the body be­ing an ob­ject of de­sire and rather an ob­ject that should be re-de­signed.

The words “mind” and “self ” are just words. They de­scribe a sub­tle in­ter­nal and external be­hav­iour, that is all. We have this kind of ro­man­tic nostal­gia for these sup­pos­edly hu­man and in­trin­sic at­tributes, but “mind” and “self ” are pri­mar­ily social con­structs, and ar­bi­trary and con­ve­nient ter­mi­nol­ogy.

My ideas are not mere sci-fi spec­u­la­tions about the fu­ture; they are ideas that are gen­er­ated by these par­tic­u­lar projects and per­for­mances. So, by hav­ing a third hand, by hav­ing an ex­tra ear, by in­sert­ing a sculp­ture in­side my stom­ach, these are the ac­tions that au­then­ti­cate the ideas that this artist is speak­ing about.

It’s easy to have creative ideas and to think of fu­ture pos­si­bil­i­ties. I usu­ally read books on cog­ni­tive sciences, phi­los­o­phy and me­dia the­ory, be­cause these kinds of books con­trib­ute and aug­ment my own artis­tic con­tri­bu­tions.

And any­way, to be hon­est, I know Wil­liam Gib­son and Bruce Ster­ling, and yes, I would say they are friends but, as a rule, I just don’t feel the need to read fic­tion.

What artists do best is to gen­er­ate con­testable fu­tures. Pos­si­bil­i­ties that can be ex­pe­ri­enced, in­ter­ro­gated, eval­u­ated, pos­si­bly ap­pro­pri­ated, most likely dis­carded… so these projects and per­for­mances are not de­ter­min­is­tic in the sense that they point to a par­tic­u­lar di­rec­tion or strategy. I think of these projects and per­for­mances as it­er­a­tions, but not it­er­a­tions as in math­e­mat­ics where you try dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to find a bet­ter so­lu­tion; rather these it­er­a­tions gen­er­ate al­ter­nate pos­si­bil­i­ties.

If the art­work is not sur­pris­ing for the artist as well as for the au­di­ence, then it is prob­a­bly not in­ter­est­ing art.

There are ques­tions that ex­am­ine what a body is and how it can op­er­ate in the world; we no longer should con­sider the body as bound by its skin: we are now per­form­ing re­motely. We all have wire­less me­dia; just by punch­ing num­bers on your phone, you can speak to me in Aus­tralia through my wire­less de­vice. If we are both on­line, we can com­mu­ni­cate with each other not only through text and by voice, but also through im­age, through Skype. We take these things for granted, but imag­ine in the near fu­ture where we will also be able to gen­er­ate, us­ing hap­tic on­line de­vices, a sense of feel­ing and force feed­back. Not only will I be able to see your body, I’ll also be able to feel your body and any re­sis­tance or in­ter­ac­tion that oc­curs be­tween our bod­ies. The other on­line is not only an im­age but rather a pres­ence felt as a phan­tom limb.

This is also a time of pros­thetic flesh, where you can have a 3D-printed hand or an ar­ti­fi­cial heart. Sev­eral years ago, the first twin tur­bine heart was in­serted into the chest of a ter­mi­nally ill pa­tient. This ar­ti­fi­cial heart is smaller and more ro­bust and re­li­able than a hu­man heart. But it cir­cu­lates the blood con­tin­u­ously with­out puls­ing. So in the near fu­ture, you might rest your head on your loved one’s chest; she’s warm to the touch, she’s breath­ing, she’s speak­ing but she has no heart­beat.

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