Miss M: I have been thinking about asking you embarrassing questions.
Stelarc: Is that "Girls kicking ass" today?
Miss M: Exactly. You mentioned yesterday, that you got into performance art because you would have been a terrible fine artist. That brought up this question for me: Is what your doing mainly for the sake of being an artist? Is that what you always wanted to be an artist, no matter what or how?
Stelarc: Yeah [laughs]. No, ever since I was thinking about what I wanted to do, there was always to be an artist, but at that young age, being an artist was about being able to draw realistically, or impress people with your drafting skills. At that junior high school level that was what it was all about, but in my later high school years I began more to think about what the nature of art was all about. And it wasn't necessarily - even if you look at the history of art - it's not just simply about hyperrealism or landscape painting or figurative art, there's a much more psychological approach to understanding the individual. So art is a strategy for comprehending the world, it's not merely a craft that makes hot-couture images for museums. And of course electronic media and the Internet provide new operational and aesthetic realms for people to explore and they really radically redefine what the art process is all about. Going beyond the purely psychological to the more global kind of consciousness that has to do with being able to function remotely, being able to connect and interact in a multiplicity of ways, both with other people, with teleoperated robots, software agents. There are probably more programs roaming the Net, than there are people now.
Miss M: You just mentioned the concept "to function remotely". If I take it literally it, do you understand your body as a machine, that would also function remotely?
Stelarc: Well, I think it's about seeing the body in a different way, instead of the body being a biological entity, operating in this local space proximal to someone else, in fact the body becomes a body connected with other bodies in other places in a multiplicity of ways, a whole range of sensory antennae that the technology provides. In a sense the body becomes part of this greater operational structure, where intelligence is distributed remotely and spatially over the Internet. A body is not just this entity, but this entity connected to another body, where awareness is sliding and shifting, coagulating, ebbing and flowing, intensifying and dimming, depending on the connectivity of the body. So for me, what's important now, is not so much focusing on the individual psyche of a person, but that person's connectivity and multiplicity of operational possibilities.
Miss M: So it is "the body as machine"?
Stelarc: It depends what you mean by machine. In this muscle stimulation system we can physically link up over this electronic space. Now, whether you want to call that a machinic operation or whether you want to call that a new physical coupling, an interactivity between biological bodies, the system that heightens and amplifies and projects human presence simultaneously in different places, well that's really up to a definition of what a mechanism or a machine is.
Certainly the emphasis has shifted from seeing the body as a site for the psyche and as a site for social inscription to now seeing the body in a more structural way. As a body connected to other bodies, as a body embedded and interactive with other technologies and the Internet in particular.
Miss M: Looking at your other projects, for example the hooks, do you think your personal concept of body has changed over the years and your work? On these postcards you gave me, there are lots of people looking at you on hooks, suspended from the ceiling, is that you interpretation of interactivity?
Stelarc: [laughs] Actually the images that you selected, are images where the body is suspended publicly in a city. But there were only two of those performances of twenty-seven. Of those other twenty-five suspension events they were mostly done in either remote locations or private spaces, where there was no audience at all, except the artist who helped set the thing up. So those particular images are very special ones, and only occurred in a couple of instances.
Having decided that I would perform in a public space, yes, there were problems in about, not only the audience, but also the police, who arrested me.
We had locked the downstairs doors - this is the New York suspension between two buildings over a street.
I had a great view of the police cars coming from all directions within five minutes, sirens and flashing and that stuff. In that kind of situation you were in a space there were these social consequences for performing, but only in that particular instance. Mostly they were done in remote spaces or private galleries.
Miss M: That's a different concept of body then.
Stelarc: Well, these were all instances of exploring the bodies psychological and physiological parameters. In some of the suspension events, there wasn't much technology used because of the circumstances. If the body was suspended by the seaside or high up in a city space, then technology wasn't possible to be used. For example in the Copenhagen suspension the body was hoisted up 200 feet in the air and rotated by a crane.
In that instance there was a huge machine that was part of the choreography of the body. And then there were other instances where the body had it's third hand attached, suspended from a monorail station, controlling it's up and down movements with a remote control box, activating a motor.
In a lot of the suspension events there was technology used either to choreograph the bodies motion in space or to amplify internal signals, brainwaves, heartbeat, blood flow, muscle signals. These performances were just part of a series where the body probed, stretched, extended, repositioned in strange situations and spaces. Remotely activated, and all of these explored what it means to be a body, is it important any more to remain human? I would even rephrase that in a more radical way, perhaps the meaning of being human is not to remain human at all. Ever since we were hominoids with bipedal locomotion, two limbs become manipulated as we begin to manufacture tools, instruments, computers, other machines. So one can well argue that technology isn't this alien other, but rather technology has always been coupled with the trajectory of human evolution. And the body has developed to this point in civilization through it's technologies. Of course we know that a lot of the paradigm shifts in our awareness of the world have been the result of new technologies enabling us to have different perceptions, being able to make different measurements, going at faster speeds. Pushing the human bodies metabolism, it's muscular and skeletal system, it's nervous system, it's cardiac rhythms. To function in a technological terrain is to function in a zone of operation in which intention and action collapse into increasing accelerated responses. Now, how can a body cope with this kind of speeded up critical decision making operation in space? Anything from military machines, to the Internet to a lot of our scientific instruments, like a tunnel electron microscopes or atom smasher, all of these devices really challenge what it means to have a body and what it means to remain human.
Miss M: Do you still feel human?
Stelarc: It's not that I have been catapulted into this fantasy land, or Sci-Fi vision, or startrekkie mentality, but rather by continuously pushing the body, by continuously interfacing the body with new technologies and robotic systems and even other bodies remotely, then your generate experiences that you wouldn't ordinarily have and so consequently you are always thinking and possibly even redefining what it means to function in this way. I don't want to get off to this Sci-Fi fantasy world of the post-human, but of course one can well argue that images and body transformation have already occurred with medical experimentation and surgical operations and the notion of a cyborg is already physiologically coming into being. We can safely implant bits and pieces into the body to increase the durability and function of our joints, we are now being to replace to parts of our organs or organs all together. The notion of an artificial heart is not science fiction anymore. But there are other rather unexpected situations, like nano-technology. It's going to be possible for machines to inhabit the human body.
Technology began as something always external to the body, that inhabited the body's landscape, the human landscape. Now with micro-miniaturization, with nano-technology we come to a point where the body tissue itself, the internal spaces and tracts of the body, the cellular structure of the body, becomes a host for these micro-miniaturized machinery. We can in fact recolonize the human body with micro-miniaturized machines to augment our bacterial and viral population. And because these machines are at a nano-technological, sub-sensory level we don't even feel that they are there. But we could be internally rewiring the body providing an internal surveillance system for the body, we could provide machines that detect pathological changes in chemistry, in temperature, that can detect blockages in arterial tracts. So that's something kind of unexpected and a radical flip in our relationship to machines. Of course nano-technology with the possibility to craft neurons onto silicon chip circuitry then you have a future where interfaces, not only become internalized and intimate, they can become much more seamless, connecting other bodies and the body to the Internet. That's an unexpected situation.
Another relation of the body to it's machines has been the generating of images. A lot of our technology is technology that makes images, machines that make images. Up until now these images have been benign, they could be transmitted, but now with the possibility of imbuing images with artificial intelligence and artificial life, then you have a situation where intelligent autonomous images can become operational agents for the body. Or put into another way, that these intelligent autonomous and operational images in themselves become a kind of alternate lifeform, or artificial lifeform. A lifeform that can proliferate, replicate, transmit itself on the Net. A lifeform that goes beyond the post-human notion of the cyborg. So the realm of the post-human may no longer resign in Donna Haraways notion of the cyborg. The realm of post-human may well reside in intelligent autonomous and operational images.
Miss M: Do you see any dangers in these new technologies? Some people think that even cars are dangerous.
Stelarc: No I don't think there's anything inherently dangerous about these things. But of course if we manufacture technology as military armaments or military machines, of course that technology can be used for dangerous actions. But that's just as an indictment on our carbon chemistry as it is on our technology.
Miss M: Your beautiful head-mounted display, was developed for the military and not for artists to use. Nano-technology is for the most part not developed in civilian laboratories, but in military ones.
Stelarc: There are places where research goes on without military funding [laughs], and I know of people who have refused to be sucked in by military sponsorship for their research. But even given that some technologies do begin as military devices, that doesn't mean that artists can't undermine and subvert and reuse these technologies in creative ways, that might have much more lasting and interesting spin-offs. I think history is replete with instances like those, where a technology or an energy may have been originally used for militaristic uses, but them becomes something that spreads throughout society as a benign and creative thing. I guess I just don't have a very cynical conspiracy attitude towards the world. Of course technologies can be created that are dangerous and deadly and terminal. And of course there are conspiracies in the world. But to see a conspiracy behind every cooperation and to see a military use for every new technological invention I think is to have a rather pessimistic view of the world. But if we have to have a pessimistic view of the world than we certainly have to examine the evolutionary design of the human body. Because it's essentially that that causes a lot of the problems. It's our carbon chemistry, our conditioned behavior, it's our evolutionary inclination that stamps us as essentially aggressive creatures.
Miss M: You were talking about surveillance technologies, and how you can monitor body functions and if something happens processes are started that will heal you. That's being used already for people with heart failures.
Stelarc: Yeah, we see the beginnings of that.
Miss M: Would you feel comfortable if everybody had the possibility to watch your bodily curves over the Internet? Would that appeal to you?
Stelarc: [laughs] It's a good idea! Can I steal it?
Well, again there are already some Internet projects which involve surveillance cameras in artists studios, or surveillance cameras that you can activate and have a look what's going on in that part of the city or in that part of laboratory. That's not much different to extrapolating an internal bit of technology might transmits an internal image of you body to the Net. What's intriguing to me is not to think of it this way, but rather in a sense look at it from the point of view where we may be developing strategies where the Internet becomes this external nervous system connecting bodies that are nodes and nexuses. Imagine an Internet embedded research and connection engine, that would continuously scan, select and connect online bodies when it senses that a certain task needs to be completed. In other words your body may at one point be functioning alone as an individual, at another moment in time, your body might be simultaneously and automatically connected to other bodies. The Internet becomes this intelligent switching and connecting system. The idea of distributing your nervous system on the Net, which is happening metaphorically now, but could be happening in a much more neuronal, physiological electrical sense in the near future. That to me is exciting, not so much the collectivity and connectivity that we produce will make people subservient to the mass, but rather we are developing a system whereby each individual can have a sense of the collective, without loosing the sense of being themselves. Say in this system where we electronically connect bodies what happens if I make a movement in Melbourne prompting you to make a movement in Vienna, a motion that begins in my body is completed in your body in another place. You become a host for my behavior from Melbourne, I can extrude my awareness and action into another body elsewhere. These are to me very interesting possibilities and it creates the situation where a body isn't - simplistically - this one individual form with one self, but a body that might be a multiplicity of bodies interconnected and interactive on the Net. Hosting agents from elsewhere. So I can be an agent prompting a multiplicity of bodies in many places or a multiplicity of bodies might collaborate to prompt my individual body.
I think that these new physical connections between people promise a much more complex experience, a much more fluid self, a much more distributed intelligence. And quiet frankly, we always consider having a split personality as a pathological condition, perhaps if we looked at ways of managing these multiple selves, we would have been better off. In some primitive communities the shaman was often the person that was a "little mentally unstable", a person who heard voices, who spoke with many tongues.
Whereas perhaps having a split personality was considered a pathological condition having a split physicality is a technological advantage. In one human body it might be possible to combine remotely guided action, with locally initiated motion. So for example this body could be physically split in half, the left side can be remotely guided "I know this is not me who's doing this, I know that through the connection on the Net it's you remotely guiding my arm" I can locally collaborate on that, or locally stop doing something, but this possibility in one human body combining remotely and locally initiated actions is to me a very exciting thing.
Miss M: Do you like cybersex?
Stelarc: [laughs] Well, I've never done cybersex, I think there's been some interesting developments in that area and of course we know of
CyberSM, who developed a system whereby you had a kind of tactile feedback loop, you could touch someone through a little vibrating sensor. Sandy Stone once asked me the implications of this muscle stimulation system and I thought about it I realized what those implications where. If Sandy was in New York and I was in Melbourne, touching my chest, would prompt her to caress her breast, she would know that if you were watching Sandy, you'd see that as an active self-gratification, as a masturbatory action. But she would know her hand was remotely and possibly divinely [laughs] guided.
You have a situation there, where if I touch my skin, prompting you to touch your skin, I would feel my touch through your body from another place. And so there are a couple of extra loops of interactivity there, that aren't possible. In other words, you could have an intimacy without proximity, you would have an intimacy without the contact of skin, and in fact one can well argue that skin is no longer an adequate interface to the world, and that technology becomes this new membrane of our existence.
Miss M: Do we need cybersex?
Stelarc: No! We don't need it. Are we talking personally?
If cybersex is simply a simulation of real sex, than I don't see much point in it. It's never going to be quite as good, quite as interesting, quite as intimate. But what happens even if people try to simulate sex in this remote cyber way. What happens is something quite different. The experience is this strange electronic tingles, but with bodies unseen, untouched, with skin unexcited, the experience becomes something very different. And one can thing of it as an augmenting rather than erasing technology. It's not going to do away with physical sex, it's just going to augment physical interactivity between people remotely.
Miss M: Would you consider yourself an exhibitionist?
Stelarc: Well, I mean, ah, you could answer that in various ways. The fact that you use your body in performance, rather than painting an installation, one could well argue that performance artists are exhibitionists, but no more so than actors or other public figures performing in some public space.
But I'd come back to something I pointed out about the suspension events, the people who see those as the most spectacular actions also don't realize that they were usually performed with no audience at all. By definition they can't be spectacles. But in terms of interfacing your body in real situations and strange circumstances, than certainly what your doing is putting your body into a vulnerable zone, where people might come and go, affect you, touch you, ignore you, critique you, disclaim what you are doing. So of course an artist does become a public figure, but whether you see that in it self as being exhibitionist, it's like saying Rachel Rosenthal once did an article and said something like: performance art is inherently masochistic, because your performing with your body, you're pushing your body, you're forcing your body, you're cutting your body, injuring or placing your body into dangerous situations. I think then the word performance and the word masochism become so generalized, they tend to loose their meaning. Yes, in that very general sense you might say artists are exhibitionist, because they do something for a public audience, whether it's seen or not seen and whether they immediately participate or not, but we have to make subtle distinctions, both in the artists' intention and the audience's perception of what's going on.
Miss M: So, it's about pain then?
Stelarc: [laughs] No, it's not about pain. If you were to get pregnant, you wouldn't do it to experience physical pain, but giving birth is a painful experience.
Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that all art making is intrinsically painful but rather that in situations and circumstances where you put your body into unpredictable positions, where you are pushing the limits, when you are interfacing it with complex and powerful machines, it may be difficult, it may be dangerous, it may be painful, but those aren't the issues, at least in these performances. The body suspended in space is not about this particular body having a certain painful experience, or inserting a sculpture inside the body, isn't about deliberately and maliciously creating a situation where I have an unbearable painful experience. In fact the Internal Sculpture Project, was probably the most difficult of the performance events to do. But if see a video tape of the insertion of the sculpture and you saw a video tape of the suspended body, we all know which one people would say was the most painful. But I can assure it was inserting the sculpture that was the most physically difficult. Because your dealing with involuntary body responses, with this internal invasion and transgression of your body, whereas the hooks being inserted into the skin was certainly very painful and difficult to do, but you could either bear or you couldn't. With the internal sculpture it was much more out of your hands.
Miss M: I looked at a sketch of the internal sculpture yesterday, and I thought it looked like an animal.
Stelarc: The shape and form of the sculpture had a lot to do with the function. Something had to be designed that when it was closed could be safely inserted. So the capsule structure with hemispherical ends made of metal like Titanium, which is strong and smooth and no-corodable. This was what was required to insert it into the body, once it in there, how could a capsule become something else? By the time I figured that a flexidrive cable to a wormscrewing link mechanism would produce a reliable operational device, that would open and close, extend and retract, had a flashing light and a beeping sound, those mechanical functions and what the thing looks like and feels like was dependent on these other design factors, how to safely get in and out. That was the primary problem.
Miss M: It's not so much about the form, but the action of retracting and opening, it reminded me of a dragon. And a dragon is something very hostile usually. "The prince goes to kill the dragon." So why would you want to swallow it?
Stelarc: Certainly, visually and emotionally that form might suggest some sort of sinister entity, but as I said before, one could also say that it was some kind of flowering structure, but in the end it wasn't so much what I wanted it to look like, but what it was going to look like given the flexidrive and wormscrew link mechanism was able to produce those operations, reliably open and close. That of course was controlled by a servo-motor and a logic circuit in a control box outside the body. Although we have designed a new internal sculpture, which has in fact been built and consists of five independent capsules, each capsule with it's own power in the form of a battery, it's own LED display, it's own sound chip circuit, so when these would be inserted individually, you could - using endoscopic instruments from the outside - assemble them into a larger structure, because they would be magnetically coupled. But this would be a free-standing operational sculpture, without the flexidrive connection to this outside control box. One of the problems we had with the first event, was that there were to many body fluids and throth and we couldn't image the sculpture very clearly inside, only bits and pieces. But I have discovered that there is medication that you can take that will dry up the inside of the stomach and will allow for a very beautiful imaging of the object inside this kind of soft, vulnerable environment of the stomach folds. But there is a side-effect of this medication, it's amnesiac. I would do this insertion, but I wouldn't remember having done it. [laughs]
Miss M: Where does your obsession with the body and altering the body and connecting the body come from? Is it some intellectual thing, like trying to find different ways of perceiving the world?
Stelarc: [laughs] Hmm, people have pointed out that it's maybe just because I feel I have an inadequate body. [laughs]
I think that was partly due to the fact, that your body simply isn't just this biological entity. It is always being augmented by technology to increase it's power, to extend it's sensory range, to increase it's calculating capabilities through computers, so there was always a feeling that the body needs to be augmented, needs to have technology attached to it, to extend and enhance it's operations.
The first things I made at art school were helmets and goggles that altered your perception, a sensory compartment that you plugged your head into and this rotating domelike structure with flashing lights and electronic sounds, that provided this continuos sensorium around your head. From the very beginning of seriously pursuing ideas and art, I have used technology in that way. I guess also because I have the feeling that the body has in a sense evolved in this way, why should I continue with just two eyes, why should I continue to experience the world as a local space. Why should I only operate and function with only two limbs and hands? I think there is this desire to modify, extend, enhance and augment the body, and that's where it comes from. Whether one sees that as a particular and peculiarly gendered urge or whether one sees it as kind of having biological deficiency. IN other words new technologies and instruments generate new information which in turn produce alternate desires and paradigms of the world. So it's this dynamic of never being quite satisfied with the informational and technological environment you inhabit.
Miss M: Have you ever thought of freezing yourself or downloading yourself onto silicon?
Stelarc: I'm interested in the notion of extending someone's lifespan, and I think this might exponentially occur in the near future. We may be the generation that just misses out on a quantum leap of doubling or tripling our lifespans. But that notion of extending the bodies' operational time, has for me got to do with not a kind of spiritual yearning for transcendence, but rather the idea that if we are going to inhabit alien environments of the earth for example. If we are going to travel distances measured in lightyears rather than measured in thousands of miles, then somehow our bodies' metabolism, our body physiology, our aging experience has to be modified, unless we do discover warped time or discover how to travel through wormholes and blackholes.
But this idea of having a modern day embarming process, like freezing your body or your head, which is what's happening at the moment. I am not convinced that the raison d'etre for doing that is right-headed enough. People are doing it for the wrong sorts of reasons, without any viable possibility that they could be unfrozen and re-animated at some future period. The idea that if you have cancer now, you can freeze your body now and in some distant future three or four thousand years from now, when they have solved what cancer is all about, you could be brought back to life and cured. I don't mind people doing that, but everything I do leads me not only to feel that this body is peculiarly obsolete, but this body doesn't even have a mind of it's own. And what's important is not what emanates from this body but rather what happens between bodies.
One can construct awareness of an intelligence in two ways, in others ways as well but, from a western view point we are obsessed with ego-driven bodies, that's why Freudian psychoanalysis flourished, we had this idea that something in us, is producing our behavior, something repressed and in the sub-conscious is making us perform in certain ways, or is making us envious or emotional or obsessive or paranoid or whatever. Instead of seeing intelligence or awareness or desire emanating from each individual in an isolated sense: The more I do, the more I feel. What's important is what occurs between people in that social space, in that language which is consensual. At this point of time in this peculiar culture of ours, what we call awareness and intelligence is what happens between us. So it's this exchange that's meaningful, not what an individual emanates, and in fact one can well argue that any individual thought has in fact been manufactured and engineered by countless external forces, impinging upon your body.
What you read yesterday, who you spoke to the day before last, who taught you ten years ago, which country and culture you've been brought up in, your gender, there's countless external factors and genetic factors which predetermine your inclination, behavior and your responses to situations. I'm not convinced anymore that bodies are simply ego-driven and that to me smacks suspiciously of a Platonic view of a zombie-like body being driven by some internal soul. Or the Cartesian necessity to split mind and body. When I talk about the body, I don't mean it as a counterdistinction to a mind. For me, a body is this total physiological, phenomenological cerebral package, which interacts with the world, interacts with other bodies and is augmented by technology. It's in those operations, in those situations, in those interfaces and exchanges that intelligence and awareness is generated, not simply from an isolated body. So if we develop this attitude which doesn't have to be spiritual, which doesn't have to be Jungian, which doesn't have to transcendental and mystical at all, if we engage in these kinds of attitudes and operations than a lot of our philosophical problems evaporate, a lot of our personal hang-ups don't have to exist anymore, what's meaningful is interaction, exchange. connectivity, collectivity and that makes the transition to function intelligently on the Internet.
Miss M: You're work is often mentioned together with Orlan's , do you see any parallels between your work?
Stelarc: I find Orlan's work very interesting, partly because of it's commitment and partly because the ideas are authenticated by the physical actions, there is an acceptance of the physical consequences of ones ideas, which is very similar to the kind of attitude I have. That it's not enough to have ideas, ideas, in an information overloaded environment are easy to appropriate, easy to generate, but who actually does it.
To realize, to manifest, to have the direct experience of your ideas and take the physical consequences of your ideas is a lot more difficult strategy. So I admire her work very much and I think she's a very interesting person in that she encapsulates the notion of the performer in the postmodern age. Her series of performances were she is appropriating mythical archetypal features and sort of collapsing them into one physiology. It's the postmodern performance. She does also feel that the body is obsolete, but I think there are metaphysical differences. Whereas Orlan also appropriates the mystical and she seems to be an inner-driven person, we differ markedly. When I talk about the obsolescence of the body I mean it in a very different way than Orlan. I think Orlan is kind of planning of preserving her body after death.
I'm just not quite sure about those things and I'd dispute any transcendental, mystical out-moded metaphysical attitude to the body. This idea for example that the Internet is a space of dis-embodiment I think is a rather fallacious leap of the imagination. For a start the Internet is grounded in an immense physicality of computerssystems, of satellites, of other bodies in other places. If mind to mind is this exchange of information via text and image then I think it's a very reductive and impoverished notion of what mind is.
Mind for me is this sense operating in a world, of navigating through space, of force-feedback, of tactile sensitivity, of position and orientation, of listening, of scanning. I think that the fact that the body seems to absent on the Net, this absence is of inadequacy not of any substantiality. But as we develop more complex force-feedback, tactile feedback loops of connectivity, then we might be in a position where we can generate experiences of phantom bodies on the Internet, but phantom not as in phantasmagorical, but as in phantom limb sensation. It's not there, but you can feel it. At the moment this is not the case, but to extole this absence of physicality as the Internet of a realm of dis-embodiment is totally reductive and impoverished.
For me the Internet is seen not merely as a medium of transmitting information, like this Superinformationhighway is, rather the Internet is a transducer that effects physical action in other bodies in other places, the potency of the Internet is, how much one can physically alter bodies at these different modes on the Internet.
Miss M: Would you like to replicate and have a Stelarc #2, and then do a performance with yourself in New York and the other you somewhere else? Simultaneously touch yourself?
Stelarc: I'd prefer to do it with another person. I'm kind of old-fashioned, preferably with someone of the opposite gender too.
I have done performances where I have performed with a virtual body. But here the interest was in the idea that you could generate interactivity with a virtual entity, a phantom body. That could mimic your physical movements, but also we could map virtual camera views to the body movement. When my left arm jerked up and down involuntarily the virtual camera view of the virtual body changed from low views of the body to high views of the body. Or moving my third hand 90 degrees produced a 360° scan of the virtual body, a rotating body. We also mapped breath to body, my breathing made the virtual body pulse.
The virtual body had this kind of animated breath like vibration to it. Also by swaying backwards and forwards we generated a very shallow virtual space, when the body was swayed backwards it would disappear. You had this choreography of the virtual body, that was at the same time mimicking physical movements, had a choreography of mapped virtual camera views, was pulsating with your breathing and was appearing and disappearing as you swayed backwards and forwards. It's that kind of in a sense formal beauty, choreography and mapping a physical to virtual. If that virtual body was imbued with some artificial intelligence where it decided whether it would or wouldn't respond to your physical promptings, that might generate another layer of interactivity, and be even more interesting.
These performances have never been about psycho-social exploration. The performances were never about this particular body. The body is seen as an evolutionary object, as a structure rather than a psyche. So with that premise the performances were about other things. In feminist critique it is very difficult to get away from the political action, but in these performances there is not a deliberate intentional strategy to make a political issue or to take a political stance, either in terms of gender or in terms of artistic practice. In feminist critique the answer to that statement would be that in trying to be neutral that's a political statement in itself.
One can tautologically argue ad absurdum. The intention of the artist is not to be purely personal or purely political. Now, can you be something other than purely personal or purely political? In the realm of human activity one can well argue that you can't. You're either being personal or political, or both, but you can't be neither.
I would beg to differ. When we are interactively connected in this muscle stimulation system - for example - we create a situation where if your prompting my body to move, you are producing in this body a movement with no memory and no desire. In other words I have no memory of that particular movement when I perform it and it's performed unexpectantly without my desire. Ordinarily we would assume that only a machine produces movement with no memory and no desire. Now, all of a sudden, we have a situation where a human body or part of a human body can be automated to make an involuntary action which neither depends on a memory of that action, nor is initiated by a desire or an expectation. The next question is, can we talk of a body, if it has no memory and no desire, performing without any emotion?
Again, you'd be hit from all sides by people at large and feminists in particular that somehow you are mechanizing the body, but I'm not talking about making the body into a machine, here we have created a system, where bodies can interactively and remotely connect and interact and effect each other. They are not machines. We are doing things where we are unfolding behaviors that are not dependent on those old metaphysical and gender and genetically conditioned actions. We are producing something that does not have to depend on memory, is not driven by desire. But in that neutrality, within this new space which is neither body nor machine, within this alternate operational space what can be discovered, what can be exposed, what can be experienced?
Is it possible to have a personal relationship with someone without being immersed in nostalgia, not driven by desire and expectation, not performing with emotion? What sort of a relationship would that be? A lot of people would say it's not a relationship, but I would say: is it possible to try something like that? Is it possible for anything to come off it? Is it meaningful or is it something that now will be just simply critiqued and set aside. I'm not convinced. I have always challenged the things that seem to be un-challengable. Like the notion of free agency, an issue that's touched upon here. I mean if half of your body is driven remotely and the other half locally controlled already free agency becomes problematic. In fact although we always generate the illusion of free agency, we would like to think of ourselves as free agents, we would like to feel that we are making a decision by ourselves that will be to our advantage, nonetheless one can well argue that the decision you make today is being the result of lots of external promptings, people impinging, institutional expectations, social expectations, cultural upbringing, this point in time in this historical mode that we are in in these parallel world.
Miss M: You don't believe in any freedom?!
Stelarc: Not in any simplistic sense that somehow you are this free and blithe spirit. No I don't. Having said all of those things, having said that it's possible to perform without being nostalgic, without being driven by desire, without any emotion, doesn't necessarily mean that I am belittling the human body, belittling the personal or the subjective or even undermining the importance of making decisions. It's just that it's a much more complex operation than we have been let to believe, or that we have been conditioned to accept.