Performance Artist and Distinguished Research Fellow, School of Design & Art, Curtin University Perth, 71
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 So, yes, I think the body is obsolete.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.