Re: [-empyre-] influence

On 16.01.04 06:21, "Alan Sondheim" <> wrote:

> Stelarc has been a critical influence/inspiration for me, both in person
> and online. His theoretical approaches to body and virtuality are astute,
> and his merging of performance, digital and analog phenomenologies, and
> network distributions is amazing. I think of his work as paradigmatic of
> what might be achieved, by less 19th-century means (see my article on him
> in Beehive), in another 20 years or so. I'm not saying that his work is
> necessarily enlightened, and its politics are problematic (in the sense of
> gender and control), but these issues aren't brought up nearly as clearly
> with anyone else's work. Besides, he's carried on the notion of spectacle
> from such performers as Laurie Anderson, Beuys, Dennis Oppenheim, Vito
> Acconci, etc., in a rather marvelous way.
There is no doubt that Stelarc's work has proved influential, but I feel
this has been to a very particular community and not pervasive in the same
way that the work of Beuys or Acconci's work has been. As such, his work has
not evolved that paradigmatic "of its time" status that certain other work

The politics of Stelarc's work are problematic in part due to questions of
gender and the relation of the individual to the collective, amongst other
reasons, but primarily because Stelarc has always refused to recognise that
his work might actually be political. I do not think he has ever accepted
the argument that, for instance, the personal is political, or that every
individual is always responsible for the political (social) implications of
their actions and is complicit in our activities as a collectivity, even
when we are "against" that action.

I am not suggesting either that his attitude is Sadean, regarding the
individual as supreme and any action they choose to take, regardless of its
implications, thus justified, simply because I doubt he would have thought
it through in those terms.

In many ways Stelarc's work is very old fashioned. I do not mean that he is
old fashioned in terms of his approach to an issue such as gender (although
this is the case) but rather that he regards the artist in that very
particular shamanistic role, where the concept of individual genius is still
alive and the romantic notion of the self against everything else is a
determining motivator of action and value. This approach can be seen as 19th
Century in many ways, although of course it also informed the very
conservative sexual politics of the 50's and 60's - the years when Stelarc
grew up, as the son of a Greek Cypriot immigrant family in an
ultra-conservative Australian context.

Stelarc has never sought to objectify his practice and place it in terms of
value into a larger social and cultural context nor establish a critique of
it that engages with such criteria. In this his approach is also profoundly
old fashioned, regarding the subjective judgement of the artist as the
origin of value in art.

Perhaps post-Modernism passed him by as he was doing something else.

I guess the above sounds like a pretty harsh critique. It isn't. Or rather,
I would be just as harsh on any other artist, including myself. We all fail
in various respects. It is part of our charm, if you like. To put it in
context, I have always enjoyed a Stelarc performance, especially when he is
on form. It is always expansive and generous, as he is as a person, and
defies easy analysis or categorisation. My favourite works of his are the
earliest suspension pieces, where he hung himself in various spaces using
nylon threads and shark hooks strategically inserted through his skin. I
only ever saw one of these suspensions in real life but the sight of a human
body suspended in space and held there only by the elastic strength of its
own skin was terribly beautiful. The stillness and austerity of the
situation, as well as its peaceful ambience, was only highlighted by the
contradictory character of the situation, where somebody was evidently doing
something physically damaging and possibly painful (Stelarc has always
claimed that when he did these suspensions they rarely caused pain).

Of course the conceptual thematic that can be read from his suspensions
continues to inform his current practice. However, when Stelarc claims that
his intent is to find a method by which he can transcend the human and
prepare the body for life in space, and the like, it is very hard to take
him seriously. I have never been able to tell if he has his tongue firmly in
his cheek when he says such things or whether he really means it. There has
always been something of the practical joker about him. Perhaps it doesn't

So I cannot agree with Alan that Stelarc's practice, as a phenomenology, is
amazing. I agree his performances can be amazing, but I do not find myself
engaging with an argument when I experience his work...or at least, not in
an argument with the artist. Yes, argument swirls about his work and with
this one does engage. It is just that I often feel that this emerges in
spite of Stelarc's actions.



Simon Biggs

Research Professor
Art and Design Research Centre
Sheffield Hallam University, UK

Senior Research Fellow
Computer Laboratory
University of Cambridge

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