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Stelarc: The Man and his Machinations

News of Stelarc’s public lecture came as an unexpected surprise. That too happening right here in Singapore at LASALLE was too good an opportunity to miss going. The whole auditorium was packed and I couldn’t resist taking a few snaps.

I managed to catch a glimpse of the man up close, together with Steve Dixon, who were just one row away from the rest of us there!

It was interesting to actually be there at a talk and see Stelarc in the flesh. It was thrilling to hear him discuss his artistic practices and share his views on a wide range of topics ranging from the Internet to cyborgian to religion. I kept wondering to myself just how rational Stelarc came across in terms of explaining why he does the things he does. He truly sees the body as something more than just flesh, but as a material and medium to push the boundaries of art. Combined together with technology and machines, Stelarc doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all in his pursuits to further experiment and continue experimenting.

I especially enjoyed how he managed to infuse humour into his talk. He erupted into his legendary laugh many times, and I just couldn’t help thinking if he enjoyed grossing his audience out as he proceeded to show video footage from a surgery done on his arm to grow an ear!

Watching people rush to him after the talk to have their photographs taken with him (and his third ear!) was just a little surreal. As he continues to be ever curious and ever aware of new developments to closer connect the Body and Technology, Stelarc has become both an artist and a celebrity.

Stelarc’s publc lecture at LASALLE has been recorded and archived on Livestream, which can be viewed here!

Stelarc performing "Ping Body"

Stelarc’s “Ping Body”

For Stelarc, the human body is something that is just beyond the conventional image of being a passive entity. The body becomes much more than just a passive agent of flesh and blood. In his array of performance works, the human body takes on an active role of being a malleable medium and “Ping Body” is no exception to this. What seems so striking about this work, is just how readily Stelarc gives up control of his body to anonymous users over the Internet. It is as though the artist acknowledges that one cannot have full control over the self, and embraces this vulnerability with open arms.

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Shrouded in darkness amidst blinking monitors and noises from machine interfaces, Stelarc’s body convulses, twists and turns. One gets the impression of how the body is unsure of what it is doing, or rather, that the body is no longer under the control of the artist. Arms, legs and hands flail about with the accompaniment of noises from the machine interfaces, painting a picture of some sort of reanimation being underway. It is as though Stelarc is creating a space for both the body and technology to become aware of one another.

Perhaps it is this vulnerability of the human body that becomes readily apparent as Man continues onward to further mesh himself with Machine. Stelarc is literally wired up to a live system, which continually dictates his every movement, action and reaction via electrical signals. In this day and age, these signals are very much like the stimuli we receive everyday via media (i.e. smartphones,  computers, television, iPods, etc).  The physical tethers (ie. the wires, cables) seen in Stelarc’s “Ping Body” are still very much real today in our daily lives(i.e. chargers for electronic devies, head/earpieces, underground fibre cables for Internet connections). Even as we march onwards towards wireless systems, we are in fact more closely wired to the very machines we make use of.

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A body held in stasis, waiting for input.

Who are you? Who slips into my robot body and whispers to my ghost?

– tagline from “Ghost in the Shell” (1995)

It is interesting to note how this idea of the body being a host to an external device or influence is reflected in mainstream cinema today. Mamoru Oshii’s “Ghost in the Shell” and the Wachowski Brothers’ “The Matrix” come to mind as being effective in putting across this idea of Man being the servant to Machine, and the notion of a society where Man and Machine continually compete for dominance and power.

Source: collider.com
Source: collider.com
Screengrab from "The Matrix"
Screengrab from “The Matrix

Stelarc’s “Ping Body” thus becomes a poetry piece for our generation and the next. The body becomes the puppet, and technology becomes the puppeteer. The body turns into a host to serve the whims of it’s master. A frightening thought, yet the possibilities of what can be accomplished with a fusion of Man and Machine remain relatively endless. With the speed at which technological advancements are being today in this day and age, one cannot entirely rule out the creation of living and breathing cyborgs just yet.

Interested in reading more about Stelarc’s “Ping Body”? Check out Dazedream for more!