It is amazing that Stelarc created Ping Body in 1996, when the internet have yet to mold each person’s identity as strongly as today’s age with the social media. Yet, it chillingly captured that state of the internet almost 2 decades later where everyone relies heavily or even developed an addiction for social media and internet.
One element of this work that strike me is the analogy of the metaphor that links the various network connections with the arteries in our bodies. Stelarc demonstrates and embodies himself with the internet, allowing users to create pings that cause his body to move involuntarily. This analogy is as if the internet users become all the pulses that a brain can send. This is interesting as it reverses the whole notion of human controlling the internet. A human ends up being controlled by other humans via a connection in the third space. He made himself a puppet for the masses, yet we are all puppets for one another as we are all connected and affected by one another on the internet.
Unlike pieces where the artists have absolute control over the multimedia and technology they designed (such as Telematic dreaming that i have covered last week), Stelarc is not able to react to the audience, simply because he can’t. There is interactivity with the audience so that the audience can participate in creating involuntary movements for Stelarc. However the artist is reduced from a participant to an observer: He is at the disposal of others and can only observe what others are doing to him.
I find this decision a very simple yet complicated concept due to the complexity of human’s psychology, and it is what makes the work very captivating. He loses control of his own action and body while others inhabit it, giving it life and movements, or maybe even an identity. Is is truly thrilling to be able to manipulate or control another person? This notion of subjecting oneself to others reminds me of Yoko Ono’s Cut piece in 1964 where she remained still as people cut up her clothes. I thus draw a parallel comparison as both Stelarc and Yoko Ono subject themselves to abuse from others, yet it is a very intense examination of how human connections can be, even over the third space.
This same notion of losing control one’s self and having others reconstructing or manipulating their movements and identity becomes frightening in today’s context. An example would be cyberbullying, where users of social media can be forced out of the virtual identity they created by the amount of cruel criticism from the users of the internet. In the computer, a ping is simply a signal a computer send to another to determine a presence. Translate that to the real world and you have a ping becoming something like a destructive tumor, something that almost cannot be clamped down once it has spiraled out of control in the third space. Our relationship with the third space is now ambiguous as our digital identity has become such intricately tied to our physical existence that teenagers are choosing to end their lives because of cyberbullying.
I believe Ping body is a very clear demonstration and reminder that the technology has already become one with us. Because we rely on the connection with one another on the third space, we are no longer individuals controlling the internet that we once invented, but we are now subjected to the connections and responses born from the connection from the third space we created.
Stelarc creates the interactive system and embodies himself with technology, however he is left at the disposal of the audience who are connected with him over the internet. Is this a parallel comparison with us nowadays? People construct their own identity online, yet there is only so much we can retain control: They are all subjected to users on the internet can easily crush them or empower them with criticism or support.
Please do check out Stelarc’s official site to see his other works that have made use of technology, such as exoskeleton and the Movatar.
Also, do check out Prakash’s writing at Scribbles of a Mind in Stasis for more information on Ping Body too!