By Laura Bond
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 6, 1998

Future Man


Dan Hoffman
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Tucson resident Marla Hameroff (right) expresses disbelief as her arm is moved against her will by electrical currents. Performance artist Stelarc controlled the amount of electricity and which of Hameroff's muscles were manipulated as a demonstration during his presentation Saturday night at Club Congress.

Intimacy without proximity. Awareness unlimited by physical mobility. A system of bodies spatially separated, yet electronically linked. Human beings with additional, mobile limbs. These concepts, usually relegated to the fringes of sci-fi visions of a mechanized future, are at the center of "Fractal Flesh," a multi-media presentation by Australian performance artist Stelarc, which was sponsored locally by the UA Center for Consciousness Studies.

The fliers advertising "Fractal Flesh" provided little information about what was in store for the 50 or so curious onlookers who gathered around the Club Congress stage on Saturday evening. "Involuntary Body/Third Hand," they read.

What actually transpired during the 90 minute presentation was a complex survey of Stelarc's investigations of the interface between humanity and technology, his attempts to better understand the nature of consciousness.

"I'm here to question the notion of what a body is," Stelarc said, his gestures accentuated by the presence of his additional, mechanized arm, electronically wired to produce life-like movements.

"Can a body be defined in more operational ways, to see if awareness is really more of a social/cultural construct than some intrinsic essence which dwells in the body?"

The concept of the "involuntary body" is behind one method Stelarc has employed to view humanity in such operational ways. In an ongoing series of "involuntary choreography" performances around the world, he has been wired to receive electronic impulses from various sources, including the Internet. These sources, wired to mapped muscle groupings on Stelarc's body, produce involuntary movements - in other words, a person at a technology convention in Amsterdam could cause movement in Stelarc's body in Helsinki, by simply selecting an anatomical location on a touch screen computer.

"Moment to moment, one can produce movement without self-initiation, without the memory or the desire to move," Stelarc said.

Though he acknowledged this technology is still largely in the conceptual stages, Stelarc foresees an era where the physical spaces which separate human beings will be bridged by these kinds of electronic exchanges. Lovers separated by thousands of miles, for example, could maintain physical intimacy by remotely prompting an autonomous sexual stimulation.

While these notions of a rather cyborgian future may strike the techno-layman as a bit far- fetched, it's no surprise that they drive the mind of Stelarc, a man whose notoriety as a performance artist stems largely from his "body suspension" performances, where systems of hooks and pulleys inserted directly into his skin raise and suspend his nude body in the air (once as high as the fourth floor of a New York city building.)

Other exhibits have included a series of "interior sculptures," where closed capsule devices equipped with minute cameras and flashing lights were inserted in Stelarc's stomach, intestines and lungs. These rather intimate sculptures aim to dismantle the notion of skin as a barrier.

"When you probe inside the body, skin is no longer a convenient boundary," he said.

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