Re: [-empyre-] influence: Stelarc vs Kelley via Nichols

dear Simon, Alan and everyone,

I think this exchange brings up a salient feature of
the ethics and critique of new media practice as it
intersects with contemporary art, that is, among rare
artists,  e. g. a shift away from reactionary Sadean /
Romantic/Modernism  and towards the mysteries and
disturbed terrain of the collective network.  And
towards the  ironies of social and political resonance
therein. Performance / installation artist Mike Kelley
has a very powerful critique of the  viral 'cultural
meme' Simon reminds us of here, re: Stelarc, 
regarding the

> individual as supreme and any action they choose to
> take, regardless of its
> implications, thus justified,

Whether Stelarc is conscious of these issues or not is
somewhat of a side bar to the fact that 'we' are, i e
. the people talking on this list. Right now. 
Existence of  the live, dynamic network brings a
dispersed consciousness to new media process that
cannot be controlled and focussed by a cirque de
soleil style performance/nostalgia entertainment. 

in the current LA MOCA Contemporary installation show.
Kelly's work "Pay for your Pleasure"  is a long
'hallway' of banner like paintings.  Each juxtaposes
quotations and gigantic cheesy painted posters of 18th
- early 20th century modernist art heroes, from
Tolstoy to Baudelaire to Rimbaud; next to each
portrait is a quote from the subject, in which art is
defended as justifiable madness, as acceptable raison
d'etre for murder, etc.  The quotes are not arbirtrary
nor concocted by the artist.  At the opening end of
this processional space are a couple of fishbowls with
cash and change in them and a small sign indicating
it's for a victims of violent crime relief fund.  At
the other end is a reproduction of a naive self
portrait by the serial killer John Gacym who depicts
himself as a mournful scholar in a study, a St.
Jerome. fmi see

"Rather than allowing it to dictate his art, Kelley
has turned nostalgia against itself, creating a body
of work that explores repressed memory, systems of
archival categorization, and the impulse to
self-mythologize with seemingly inexhaustible formal
inventiveness and a skepticism sorely lacking in most
of the swooning, delusional art world."  ( Doug
Harvey, LAWeekly Dec 13-18, 2003).  

Accidentally or ironically, Stelarc's 'body' of work
(no pun intended) desires a mythology both of stelarc
as superhero and as everyman, a cog in the cybernetic
Because there is some kind of ambiguity about this
double standard within performance, so that you dont
actually know if he has a sense of irony about this
situation, Simon is noting that you cant really
suggest that his motive is de Sade.  But i wonder. 

In this connection I really like the prescient remarks
of Bill Nichols, whose essay, The Work of Culture in
the Age of Cybernetic Systems (Screen, winter 1988) is
reprinted in the NMR.  Nicholls riffs on Benjamin's
famed "Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical
Reproduction" in re: cybernetic culture.  Forgive the
long quote, but it's too cool to cut short:

"The testing Benjamin found possible with mechanical
reproduction -- the ability to take things apart and
reassemble them, using, in film montage, the 'dynamite
of the tenth of a second' -- extends yet further with
cybernetic systems:  what had been mere possibilities
or probabilities manifest themselves in the
simulation.  The dynamite of nanoseconds explodes the
limits of our own mental landscape.  What falls open
to appreception is not just the relativism of social
order and how, through recombination, liberation from
imposed order is possible; but also the set of
systemic principles governing order itself, its
dependence on messages in circuit, regulated at higher
levels to conform to predefined constraints.  We
discover how, by redefining those constraints,
liberation from them is possible.  Cybernetic systems
and the cyborg as human metaphor refute a heritage
that celebrates individual free will and
subjectivity." (NMR, p 640).

thereby hangs a tale


> 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
> matter?
> 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.
> best
> Simon
> Simon Biggs
> Research Professor
> Art and Design Research Centre
> Sheffield Hallam University, UK
> Senior Research Fellow
> Computer Laboratory
> University of Cambridge
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum


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