Australian artist Stelarc (born Stelios Arcadiou) is currently serving as Chair in Performance Art, School of Arts, Brunel University West London and as the Senior Research Fellow and Visiting Artist in the MARCS Labs at the University of Western Sydney, Australia after sustaining a career as an internationally respected artist since the late 1960’s. His creations and performance art have changed over the years, yet have retained repeated themes on embodiment, incarnationalism, identity in virtual bodies, and thinned lines between humans, their artifacts, and what might be considered ‘nature’.
            Sterlac draws attention to the most core of our existence: embodiment. However much hygiene-related-paranoia driven religious tradition influences our contemporary period, we remain dealing with the fallout of the Cartesian res extensa, as a body-seen as not really ‘us’. We live in what he calls absent bodies, which is exposed in the language of  “having a body, not being a body.” Our bodies can often fall into neglect, a way of being in the world that is only brought to our attention when we stub our toes sufficiently enough.
            Our created tools and cultures, says Stelarc, have evidenced a pattern of distancing and remoteness that can be overcome, perhaps counter intuitively, not by resisting technologies, but integrating them with our corporeal selves to the larger array of the creaturely/created world with intention and engagement. Over the years, he has developed cyborg applications extending him bodily and acting in a harmony that breaks down the subject/object distinctions that many cannot imagine their world without. Yet, his art is only a celebration and furtherance of what is happening in many digital cultures already. The mouse and tethered devices (iPod, Blackberry, Bluetooth) that accompany so many are already pushing the limits of cyborg hybridity but are overlooked for their mainstream acceptability. The transformation and alteration of our bodies being shattered over the information saturated landscape will likely continue in this way, uncritically and without reflection as long as our comfort is streamlined. As long as our bodies are absent, we may passively allow technologies to be laid on us and seen as antagonistic to our existence. However, by embracing our bodies and the products of our highest imagination, aesthetic, and innovation, we can come to find that we have always been at once ‘zombies and cyborgs’ and in turn celebrate our fully relational selves incorporated into the world around us.
            Stelarc performed his Suspension series from 1976-88, which consisted of the driving of large hooks through his flesh in such a way that he could hang naked without further harnessing. Using himself to hang in space gave a mystical floating appearance and is reminiscent of some ascetic practices of self denial in search of transcendental achievement. However, Stelarc is emphatic that there is no transcendental connotation. The body is present, immanent, and tangible; the aesthetic appraisal of the performance can stay engaged with the body without having to invoke a spiritualized interpretation let alone an otherworldly denial of the flesh. Stelarc allows his body to be another sculpture in a world of sculptural beauty-sometimes rocks amidst crashing waves, other times alongside gargoyles of the urban cityscape. The body becomes beautiful in itself, its own foundation stone and pyramid.
            Stelarc’s works, sometimes met with skepticism to revulsion, bring the body to the fore and open avenues for others to accept, reside in, and control the destiny of their bodies. It is easy to see the destruction of the flesh all about us in our cultures: dietary choices equivalent to poison, unnecessary world hunger and disease propelled by greed, drug abuse, domestic violence, all of which often receive less dismay or opposition than Stelarc’s work when encountered. The body and its unique place in the universe as a thinking, feeling, dancing, and loving event is too easily forgotten. Some religious traditions calling the human body the ‘pinnacle of creation’ have left little room for its discussion aside from its need for punishment, asexuality, judgment, and denial. Stelarc takes seriously the possibilities of our existence as embodied selves and celebrates them, without moralizing or fear.
            The body is obsolete, says Stelarc. He claims that our technologies can replace redundant organs, microscopic robots be tasked with aiding our overtaxed immune systems, our skin designed to absorb more nutrients from its immediate environment. This is not playing god-or at least anymore so than we regularly do on a daily basis. The corn, wheat, chicken’s eggs, and apples that we eat have been crafted; the highways carving scars along our land have made many landscapes unrecognizable from their former selves. We are always acting as artisans, innovators, creators. Stelarc gives the opportunity for owning up to our actions, seeing the possibility inherent in our bodies as beautiful and celebrated and acting as co-creators in a universe where what is profane and holy is decided by each of us.

Advertisements