Born 1946, Limassol, Cyprus; lives and works in Melbourne
Identifies as: Performance Artist
Language/Language group: English
The body and the human are unstable constructs. The dead, the near-dead, the brain dead, the yet-to-be born, the partially living and synthetic life all now share a material and proximal existence, with other living bodies, operational machines and executable and viral code.
We are living in an age of excess and indifference and of prosthetic proliferation. The body performing with a Third Hand, a Stomach Sculpture, a Prosthetic Head and with Exoskeleton locomotion. Engineering alternative anatomical architectures. The body now experiences parts of itself as automated, involuntary and absent to its own agency. It is profoundly obsolete and empty. The body is now remotely prompted and propelled.
With increasingly micro- and nano-scaling, technology can be attached and inserted into the body. Technology becomes biocompatible in both scale and substance. The body has become a contemporary chimera of meat, metal and code. Its metabolism, musculature, sensory and cognitive capabilities are hard-wired to its instruments, machines and computational systems. Bodies become end-effectors for other bodies in other places and for machines elsewhere, generating interactive loops and recursive choreographies of interaction. Fractal Flesh proliferates.
We see with other eyes and hear with other ears and are prompted by other bodies and machines situated elsewhere. Our senses are shared and our agency is distributed. The body is neither all-here nor all-there, but partly here (as this body) and partly elsewhere (as its digital doppelganger). It performs beyond the boundary of its skin and beyond the local space that it inhabits – an extruded and extended operational system. Being a single agent, located in only one place, performing purely as a biological body, is an outmoded, inadequate and impoverished existence. Phantom Flesh proliferates. Phantoms become increasingly physical. Phantoms not as phantasmatic, but as phantom limbs. Phantoms flicker on and off, as digital noise, as glitches in biological time. In the liminal spaces of replicating Prosthetic Bodies, Partial Life and Artificial Life, the body has become a floating signifier.
The body is simultaneously a possessed and performing body. One that inhabits both offline and online worlds. Augmenting the body means not only altering its anatomical architecture but also by engineering online user-friendly interfaces to better collaborate with forward masking and simulations in electronic spaces of operation with other bodies and machines elsewhere. The body is no longer merely an object of desire, but rather an object that requires redefining and redesigning. At a time of digital contamination of the body’s microbiome, what it means to be human is perhaps not to remain human at all. What artists do best is to generate contingent and contestable possibilities – possibilities that can be experienced, interrogated, evaluated, possibly appropriated but most likely discarded.
Stelarc is an Australian performance artist. His projects and performances explore alternate anatomical architectures, interrogating issues of embodiment, agency, identity and the post-human. Between 1973–75 he made three films of the inside of his body – three metres of visual probes into his stomach, left and right bronchi of his lungs and into his colon. Between 1976–88 he completed 27 body suspensions with insertions into his skin. He has performed with a Third Hand, a Stomach Sculpture and Exoskeleton, a six-legged walking robot. Fractal Flesh, Ping Body and Parasite are internet performances that explore remote and involuntary choreography via a muscle stimulation system. He is surgically constructing and stem-cell growing an ear on his arm that will be electronically augmented and internet enabled. With the Re-Wired / Re-Mixed performance, for five days, six hours a day he could only see with the eyes of someone in London, hear with the ears of someone in New York, while anyone, anywhere could choreograph his exoskeleton arm.
In 1996 Stelarc was made an Honorary Professor of Art and Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh and in 2002 was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws by Monash University, Melbourne. In 2010 he was awarded the Ars Electronica Hybrid Arts Prize. In 2015 he received the Australia Council’s Emerging and Experimental Arts Award. In 2016 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the Ionian University, Corfu. From 2013–18, Stelarc was a Distinguished Research Fellow, Curtin University, Perth. His artwork is represented by Scott Livesey Galleries, Melbourne.
Amplified Body, Laser Eyes and Third Hand, Tokyo, 1985
Photographer K. Shinoda
Brainwaves, heartbeat, muscle signals and blood-flow are amplified. A cacophony of whirring, whooshing and thumping sounds. Over the duration of the performance, sounds fluctuate due to physiological control or conversely, fatigue. The Third Hand motor sounds are also amplified and sometimes synchronised with, sometimes a counterpoint to the body sounds. Laser beams are directed to the eyes via optic fibre cable and scribble images in the space. The audience is immersed in the artist’s internal bodily functions and is touched by the artist’s gaze. Brainwaves and muscle signals, interact and modulate the lighting installation. The performance begins when the body is switched on and the performance ends when the body is switched off. The amplified body is an extended body, extended beyond the boundaries of its skin. But it is also an empty body, emptied of its internal activity.
Exoskeleton – Hamburg 1997
Photographer Igor Skafar
A performance simply taking a robot for a walk, replacing human bipedal gait with six-legged locomotion. Although the robot’s walking speed is constant, what is varied is the selection of walking modes, the direction of the robot and the direction that the body is facing. In addition to the ripple and tripod gaits, the robot can squat, stand, stomp and turn on the spot. It is a choreography of arm gestures, leg movements and the body rotating on its axis. A chimeric architecture of human and insect. An array of cameras above, around the space and on the robot provide an aesthetic surveillance system for cinematic projection on a large screen, complementing the physical presence of the body on the robot. The choreography of the performance composes the cacophony of sounds. A performance not only observing what the robot is doing but also listening to the sounds that the robot is generating.
Extended Arm, Melbourne, Hamburg 2000⠀
Photographer Dean Winter
An eleven-degree-of-freedom manipulator with wrist flexion, wrist rotation, thumb rotation and individual finger flexion, with each finger splitting open so it can potentially be a gripper in itself. The artist’s fingers rest on a panel of switches enabling the selection of pre-programmed sequences of finger, thumb and wrist movements. A prosthesis not as a mere replacement, but as an addition to the capabilities of the body. The Ambidextrous Arm initiated by the artist at Brunel University is an ongoing research platform. The fingers can bend one way, the thumb can rotate to create a right hand, but the fingers can bend completely the other way and the thumb can bend backwards to create a left hand. A human-like hand that has a universal design, the double-jointedness enabling gripping on both sides of the hand. And perhaps some tasks can be completed better with two left hands. With a webcam in its palm, the eye-in-hand becomes a mobile and multidirectional vision system.
Spinning / Screaming: Event for Amplified Head, RESCOM, Thinking Systems, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney 2011⠀
3D Model Barrett Fox⠀
The performance uses a Kinect sensor to map the artist’s arm gestures to the Prosthetic Head animation and voice. The artist wears a head-up display enabling him to view the head’s behaviour on the screen beside and behind him. The artist’s large shadow accentuates the interaction with the gesture recognition system, establishing a relationship between the artist’s arms and the visual and acoustical animations it generates. The performance is improvised, observing and responding to the artificial head’s behaviour, generating animations and vocalisations. What is interesting is the glitches that occur between the artist’s gestures and what the Kinect system can detect. And opportunistically incorporating them into the performance. The animation of the artificial head sometimes freezes, the vocalisation sometimes stutters. The accidental is welcomed. There is always a slippage between intention and actual outcome. But two heads are better than one.
Walking Head, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne 2005⠀⠀
An autonomous and interactive robot. When its rotating ultrasound sensor detects someone in the gallery space, it stands up, selects from its library of possible choreographies and performs for several minutes. It then sits down and the system goes to sleep until the next person comes along. Being pneumatically actuated it has a strong acoustical presence. It performs within a five-metre-diameter space, its tilt sensor detects the edge of the plinth and keeps its performance in that defined area. Increasingly, robots will go beyond biomimicry to human-insect-animal hybrids. Multi-legged robots perform best off-road and in rugged terrain. But having a human face and human-like manipulators facilitates its interaction with other people in social spaces. Sensors and computational systems result in more subtle and sophisticated behaviour. Walking Head is part of a series of iterations beginning with the Prosthetic Head, the Partial Head, the Articulated Head, the Floating Head and Swarming Heads. ⠀
Ear On Arm – London, Los Angeles, Melbourne 2006⠀
Photographer Piero Viti⠀
The ear is the most interesting facial and functional architecture. It is not only a listening organ, but the inner ear is also an organ of balance. Creating an extra ear, at least its external structure, is a plausible idea. After engineering mechanical extensions, there was a desire to surgically construct a soft prosthesis. Initially 3D modelled as an extra ear on the side of the artist’s head, no medical assistance was forthcoming, given the possibility of partial face paralysis. It took ten years to obtain funding and to get the assistance of three plastic surgeons. The skin of the forearm is thin and smooth, very much like the skin of the ear so this was a much more appropriate site to construct the ear. The first procedure was to stretch the skin, by injecting sterile saline solution into a silicon implant over a period of two months. In the second surgery, a porous biopolymer scaffold was inserted into the forearm and the skin suctioned over the construct. The ear scaffold is now fully integrated and a living part of this body, with tissue ingrowth and vascularisation. This is an age of excess. Of circulating flesh, of fractal flesh, of phantom flesh.
StickMan – Daedalus Project, Chrissie Parrot Arts, Perth 2017
Sound Petros Vouris, Photographer Toni Wilkinson
A simultaneously possessed and performing body that is algorithmically actuated with a six-degree-of-freedom exoskeleton for a five-hour continuous performance. An exoskeleton as a wearable robot. Sixty-four possible combinations of limb motions are generated by its computational system. But the body has one leg to stand on, making it possible to turn on its axis, retain its balance, manipulate its shadow and modulate the projected video feedback. Sensors on the exoskeleton generate the acoustical landscape both registering the limb movements and augmenting the pneumatic and mechanical sounds. A multichannel speaker system circulates the sound around the space. With latter iterations a six-degree-of-freedom miniStickMan is engineered. By bending the limbs of the miniStickMan the audience is able to insert their own choreography into the performance. A kind of virtual voodoo.
ReWired / ReMixed: Event for Dismembered Body, Radical Ecologies, Perth
Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, 2016
For five days, six hours continuously every day, the body can only see withthe eyes of someone in London, can only hear with the ears of someone in New York, whilst anyone, anywhere, can access the artist’s right arm via the online interface to the exoskeleton and remotely animate it. The body is in three places at once. Virtually and visually in London, virtually and acoustically in New York, but physically grounded in Perth. Its presence is marked by a double absence. It becomes an extended operational system of remote bodies, streaming data, head-up display and exoskeleton, with the artist’s awareness constantly shifting from the virtual to the physical. Visitors to the gallery can interact with the exoskeleton arm via a touch screen, whilst people online can also insert their choreography. Performing with a posture of indifference, performing with no expectations. Allowing events to unfold, in their own time and with their own rhythm.
Reclining StickMan – 2020 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Monster Theatres, Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA), Adelaide 2020
Photographer Saul Steed
A nine-metre long, four-metre high, nine-degree-of-freedom reclining stick robot was engineered, animated by antagonistically bundled pneumatic rubber muscles. If no-one intervenes a background algorithm intermittently actuates the robot. The robot is continuously rotating on its axis, its changing shadow projected onto three walls. The pneumatic rubber muscles contract and extend, generating a sense of anthropomorphic aliveness. Visitors to the gallery space can send commands to the robot via a panel of switches, whilst people in other places can move the robot remotely online. In a five-hour performance, attached to the torso of the robot, the artist could insert his own movements using pneumatic joysticks. Counterpointing, synchronising and improvising to local and remote actuations of the robot. The droning of the motor sounds, the solenoid clicking sounds and the compressed air not only register the movements of the robot but also amplify its physical presence. The robot installation is operational and accessible until 16 August 2020 during AGSA gallery hours 10:00am-5:00pm @ recliningstickman.stelarc.org