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Performance artist Stelarc interviewed

ARTIST Stelarc asserts that the human body is obsolete. He has performed "suspensions" where his body is suspended by hooks through his skin. Other performances incorporate technology, such as robotics.In 1997 he was appointed Honorary Professor of Art and Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University. In 2002 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate and was artist-in-residence in the Faculty of Art and Design, Monash University, Caulfield. He is currently Principal Research Fellow in the Performance Arts Digital Research Unit at The Nottingham Trent University. His art is represented by the Sherman Galleries in Sydney.He is constantly giving performances and presentations around the world, and has just begun a residency at OSU in Columbus, USA. Readersvoice.com asked him about his reading.

RV: I was wondering if science fiction authors, eg. Asimov, Philip K. Dick, William Burroughs, set you onto the exploration of the themes you’ve been covering in your art work over the decades. Some of your themes seem to overlap with cyber-punk literature, eg. projections of the human body to other areas. Do you see your work as slotting into the cyber-punk genre?

St: Oh, I have read little or no Science Fiction since High School. Yes, I vaguely remember having read Asimov, Clarke, Dick and Burroughs, but to be honest I remember very little of their books. (The idea of “intelligent disobedience” is more an idea that eminated from work being done in Robotics in Japan). I’ve read mostly books and papers on Cognitive Science, Post-Modern Theory and Philosophy. Can’t say the projects and performances slot into cyber-punk….

RV: Who were some of your influences in the art world?

St: In the late 60’s and early 70’s it was people like John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Tanaka Min, Andy Warhol, Claus Oldenburg, and Christo that were of interest. As to whether they were a direct influence is another question….

RV: How did you get started doing your performances?

St: When I discovered I was such a bad painter in Art School….

RV: What roads could you foresee books going along in future? At the moment I suppose a book is a prosthetic for the human mind, amplifying thought, but how might it evolve, or disappear?

St: From observing research in Mixed Realities, books will be increasingly ways of generating and manipulating virtual objects….

RV: Could you list some of the most important books you’ve read over the years?

St: Herbert Simon’s ” The Sciences of the Artificial”, McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Massage”, Martin Buber’s “I and Thou”, Paul Virilio’s “Speed and Politics”, Baudrillard’s “Simulations”, The Kroker’s “Data Trash” and Deleuze and Gauttari’s “A Thousand Plateaux”. Others like Hume, Nietsche, Wittgenstein, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty and Derrida were other philosophers that were fascinating to read….

RV: There’s something about your projects and the philosophy behind them that gives great peace of mind. To what would you attribute this?

St: Doing the performances with a certain indifference. An indifference that allows you to remain open to possibilities- rather than doing them with expectation, that generates a closure. There was always a serenity and a silence with the suspensions. With the amplified body performances and the exoskeleton machines sound was important in producing an acoustical aura for the body….

RV: There is a great philosophical foundation to your art work. I was wondering what your favorite philosophical readings were, if not already mentioned, and what are the key philosophical concepts that interest you.

St: Oh, any writings that dealt with discourse about evolution, the body, machines, media theory and Space Research. Anything that provided alternate readings about the body in its form, functions and relationship to the world….

RV: What sort of things, literary and otherwise, make you laugh?

St: I laugh mostly at myself….

RV: What kind of journals, whether in science or art, do you like to read?

St: I like to read Scientific American, Wired magazine, any art journal and any Mac computer magazines…. RV: How do you go about setting up a project from concept to performance, including teeing up all the technicians? How long would the preparation be?

St: Each project is different, varying in time and requiring of technical or programming expertise. Some are achieved with funding, others are self-sponsored financially. The general strategy can be categorized as constructing an interface, directly experiencing it in actions and then attempting to articulate the meaning….

RV: Where do you get inspiration for your projects?

St: I don’t search for inspiration. I don’t work by appropriation. Some ideas appear speedily. Others are worked and re-worked for them to be realized effectively….

RV: What were the presentations you were doing in L.A? What other destinations do you have planned?

St: I travel about 9-10 months of the year. I was in LA to do a presentation and a panel with some NASA JPL and Caltech scientists. I am presently doing a residency at Ohio State University.

I recently came from Toronto where the Prosthetic Head was installed at the Interaccess Gallery. The new project is a 3D avatar head, resembling my own, that speaks to the person who interrogates it. An embodied conversational agent with real-time lip syncing and speech synthesis. The head will be capable of emotional response through mapping its facial expressions to key words. It will be both a web avatar and a gallery installation. Actually I’ll now be able to instruct those pesky PhD students who want to research me for their thesis work, “hey, I’m really busy, but you can interview my head instead”, ha, ha. It will learn from the conversations that it has. So after a couple of years I won’t be able to take responsibility for what my Head says; oh, oh. At the London ICA installation good-looking girls flirted with the Head. But unfortunately not with the guy with the head with all the bits attached ha, ha….

Check out Stelarc’s website at www.stelarc.va.com.au