A simple notion drives the work of performance artist Stelarc: The human body is obsolete
He was born Stelios Arcadiou, but in 1972, the Cypriot-Australian performance artist legally changed his name to the more computer-like "Stelarc"—perhaps a more fitting name for someone who has devoted his career to exploring the unification of man and machine.
Known for his experimental body modification performance works that often incorporate robotics into his own body, Stelarc was a Principal Research Fellow in the Performance Arts Digital Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University in Nottingham, England, and is currently a visiting Professor in the School of Arts at Brunel University, West London.
In his work, Parasite: Event for Invaded and Involuntary Body, which was performed at the 1997 Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria, he connected electronic muscle stimulators all over his body, and allowed his physical movements to be controlled by people through the internet. Other performances have included a robotic third arm and a six-legged, spider-like pneumatic walking machine. In 2007, he had a cell-cultivated ear surgically attached to his left arm.
In the 2005 book Stelarc: The Monograph, editor Marquard Smith, the director of the Institute for Modern and Contemporary Culture at the University of Westminster, London, and founder and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Visual Culture, writes: "Working in the interface between the body and the machine, employing virtual reality, robotics, medical instruments, prosthetics, and the Internet, Stelarc's art includes physical acts that don't always look survivable—or, as science fiction novelist William Gibson puts it in his foreword, 'sometimes seem to include the possibility of terminality.'"
In one of the books essays, Arthur and Marilouise Kroker (Arthur is the Canada Research Chair in Technology, Culture and Theory and director of the Pacific Centre for Technology and Culture at the University of Victoria, and Marilouise is a senior research scholar at the University of Victoria) write:
"Like it or not, we have collectively already climbed out of the mechanical images of the body of the modern era into the genetically modified bodies of the present and future. Stelarc's performance of the genetically modified body is like a talisman guiding us to the consciousness of the body as a gene machine. We already reside within the architecture of Stelarc's artistic vision."
The name of their essay is "We Are All Stelarcs Now." And while we may not have a third ear implanted in our arms, just a quick survey of how we exist today gives credence to Stelarc's guiding concept: The human body is obsolete.
image: Stelarc showing off his third ear