John Armitage on Fri, 14 Apr 2000 10:10:09 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] FW: [CSL]: A-R-C: Stelarc Interview

-----Original Message-----
From: John Armitage 
Sent: Friday, April 14, 2000 9:06 AM
To: ''
Subject: [CSL]: A-R-C: Stelarc Interview

Hi all

The new issue of a-r-c is out. 

See below for contents and a new interview with the cybernetic performance
artist Stelarc.

From: a-r-c [] 
Sent: Thursday, April 13, 2000 8:38 PM
Subject: Stelarc Interview

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                               PRESS RELEASE

13 April 2000

An interview of Stelarc by Yiannis Melanitis has been added to the
-reference- section of a-r-c

The interview took place in Athens, Greece, as part of the first
by Stelarc in Greece.

Yiannis Melanitis invited and curated Stelarc presentations in Greece.

journal of art research and critical curating
editor: Poli Cárdenas
      Stelarc: interview by Yiannis Melanitis

       November 1999

       Yiannis Melanitis. OK Stelarc, it's nice to meet in Greece 

       Stelarc. Thanks 

       YM. First let's talk about the body, which you consider as an
       overloaded space of information that reacts in a spasmodic
       way... You have talked about the realisation of the moment
       that the body becomes obsolete. Do you consider this
       rgalisation as a start, as the beginning of something? 

       S. Well, I think that in enduring all of these performances what
       became apparent was the obsolescence of the body. Not to see
       the body as a means by which you could be empowered but
       rather as a structure that has physiological and psychological
       limitations. The experience of doing the performances was the
       realisation that the body was obsolete. Doing these actions you
       didn't have the experience that you were empowering the human
       body or that these were some kind of pseudo-scientific
       explorations of the body. Rather these performances revealed the
       psychological and physical limitations. 

       So, for those reasons the body is obsolete. But you are looking at
       a body now that if its' internal temperature varies three or four
       degrees it's in serious health risk, if it loses 10% of it's body
       it's dead! So the body's survival parameters are very slim. The
       body can only live minutes without air, a week without water, may
       be a month without food. It only averages 70 years in good health
       and it's a problem if you are already 50! 


       | top | 

       YM. After all, how do you experience yourself inside these
       constructed environments you create, as a part of data flux
       or as a conscious operator? 

       S. Although the"earlier performances were physically difficult, the
       more recent ones are technically complex and when the body is
       plugged into this complex system of feedback loops, of images of
       data, when the body is being hard-wired to the machinery then, at
       it's more successful moments, there is a kind of synergistic
       symbiosis where you really do lose a sense of self and become
       part of this operating system and the body. Then, in this flux of
       data flow, the body is immersed in these images, the body is
       directing the movements of a six-legged walking machine or even
       being the host for an internal sculpture. There were moments in
       those performances where the technology and the body came
       together to form one coherent and collaborating system of parts...

       YM. ... a cyborg... 

       S. Well, that's right... I mean... instead of saying a "cyborg"
       though as a kind of medical-military model, as a kind of
       Terminator 2 cyborg, as a body with its organs ripped out and
       replaced by technological parts, imagine a cyborg being rather a
       multiplicity of bodies spatially separated but electronically
       connected to other bodies in other places, with the Internet as a
       crude external nervous system. And in this way a cyborg body
       becomes this extended operational system of collaborating parts.

       | top | 

       YM. So, can we"speak for the "intent of the cyborg"? I mean,
       where is the intent when you do not exactly realise where
       the data is coming from, is it from the inside or the outside? 

       S. Well, the thing is, of course, it's an interesting question
       because I've always felt that making a decision of human intention
       or human agency is not the simple decision made by an
       ego-driven body. In other words, is it meaningful to consider
       locating the mind inside a body anymore? And, even more
       radically, is it meaningful to consider having a mind at all, in the
       traditional metaphysical sense? So we can construct intelligence
       and awareness as not necessarily something that happens in your
       body or inside my body but rather that which happens between us
       in the medium of the language within which we communicate, in
       the social institutions within which we operate, in the cultures that
       we've been conditioned to at this point of time in our history and
       so on... and that depends on our point of view or frame of
       reference. So the issue of choice, the issue of free agency is a
       questionable one! 

       We've always been afraid of zombies because seemingly they
       have no mind of their own, they perform involuntarilyS they may
       be controlled by someone else. We also are very anxious about
       the idea of the cyborg, which is a body that"is increasingly
       automated, mechanised, so we fear the zombie, we fear the
       cyborg, but we actually fear what we have always been and what
       we have already become.

       | top | 

       YM. There have been major advances in robotics in the
       previous years. However, this huge progress seems to have
       slowed down at present, probably because all essential
       steps have already been achieved. You consider the cyborg
       as a system that interacts in an environment of new
       experiences. So extending my previous question, could you
       speak for the "consciousness" of the cyborg"? 

       S. Well, I don't think, I mean... with the speculation you shouldn¹t
       see it as a kind of "either/or" situation... and it is speculation;
it is
       not a dogmatic formulation of some utopian vision. In other words,
       when we talk about re-designing the body, when we talk about the
       idea of the cyborg, it can have many forms and other functions,
       so one scenario is the medical-military idea of the cyborg body,
       another one is the cyborg system that I talked about... of remotely
       connected and collaborating bodies. 

       There is another one where micro-miniaturised technology, you
       know, in the form of nano-machines, micro-miniaturised
       technology that can be inserted inside the body... and in that
       situation a lot of technology in tje future will be invisible because
       will be inside the body. The body will become a host for
       micro-miniaturised machines, the body becomes a host, not only
       for virus and bacteria but also for a colony of nano-machines. We
       can re-colonise the human body. We can construct better
       surveillance systems for the interior structure, for this alternate
       body that becomes a host. The body becomes the landscape of
       machines, machines are no longer in the human horizon but
       within the human body itself.

       | top | 

       YM. Nevertheless the body is still a place that gives
       unpredictable outputs, an unpredictable field of possibilities.
       Machines, on the contrary, are usually considered to be
       quite predictable... 

       S: Yeah, but some machines are not very predictable... 


       Well, of course, that's an argument about whether machines could
       become truly intelligent or conscious, that machines are, you
       know, automated and human beings are unpredictable therefore
       human beings might be more creative and human beings might be
       more aware. But there is another way of looking at that, you see,
       instead of... that is, with the metaphysical assumption that there is
       some inner essence in the body. As I said, the other way of
       looking at it is to... for example studying insects: insects don't
       have big brains but they have survivef the longest. They do this
       because they have some hard-wired instinctual behaviour. If a
       small robot has a pressure sensor, a proximity sensor, a heat
       sensor and a light sensor, if it has those four or five sensors then
       it can survive in an unpredictable world with very little brainpower.
       How does it do this? Well, if you think of intelligence or if you
       think of the complexity of behaviour not being the result of an
       internal brain but rather the complexity of the environment that it

       So, in other words, the complexity of the real world generates an
       unpredictable behaviour in a little insect... and if we see behaviour
       in this way, constructed by a complex environment, then a lot of
       our problems disappear philosophically.

       YM. This seems to be very necessary, you know, nowadays...

       S: Yeah...

       | top | 

       YM. So the point is that dealing with "actions instead of
       theories" you actually experience something instead of being
       an external observer. Wiener talked about a gap between
       mechanology and mechanology of communication. Is there a
       similar gap in our days between the elgctronic age and the
       bio-technological age? 

       S. We've made increasing advances in our instrumentation and
       electronic tools that biotechnology becomes possible. Genetic
       splicing becomes a common-day occurrence, [as will] genetic
       modification in the future, especially with the genome project, the
       mapping of all the human genes - and every day we read about
       some new part of the DNA structure that is involved with
       Alzheimer's or Huttigton's disease... So I think... I don't see this
       a kind of discontinuity, I think that the age of mechanical
       engineering led to electrical engineering and that made computer
       technology possible and therefore more sophisticated software
       programming and so on... One doesn't have to see it as a
       discontinuity or a dislocation and if we think of those as different
       technical strategies rather than thinking about the particular
       technologies in themselves then, it's a lot easier to understand. 

       I mean, technology, I think, comes from the Greek word "tekhne"
       meaning "skills", so technology is not just about hardware but
       rather a way of skilfully manipulating, a way of technically
       modifying, a way of electronically constructing... and, in this way,
       biotechnology becomes possible.

       | top | 

       YM. Does this cyborg demonstrate a positive power,
       potentially opposed to the passivity thct Christianity
       proposes? In one of our previous conversations you told me
       you were an atheist. 

       S. Well, yes. The more and more I do the less, I think, I have a
       mind of my own. Certainly the idea of a self or a soul recedes
       further into the background and, I guess, if you can explain the
       world without resorting to fanciful theories then you should. I feel
       a lot of our science has gone about explaining phenomena and
       the physiology of the body which don't have to resort to those
       outmoded metaphysical assumptions...

       YM: Yeah... considering the body as an agent in a data space
       it is the space that becomes questionable instead of the
       agent... As E. Tzafesta said, "(Once) solving the problems of
       space the agent responds automatically". 

       S: Well, that's one way of looking at it, that's what I was alluding
       before when I said the complexity of your behaviour has probably
       more to do with the complexity of the environment than your
       internal, you know, DNA coding... Of course, the body is
       programmed with a certain genetic repertoire and this repertoire
       of movement, of behaviour, of stimulus and response is codified
       by society, by the culture we're brought up in... So then, we bow
       in respect, we smile when we are pleased, we shake hands when
       we first meet someone... These are codified rituals of behaviour
       thct society sanctions and you're encouraged to perform them.
       But that's... it's sort of a kind of an arbitrary construct. It's not
       necessity but of contingency.

       | top | 

       YM. Moreover, each logical system has some indispensable
       inherent restrictions... 

       S. I think any system or any structure allows a certain channelling
       of operation and energy but this is also conditional. I mean, if you
       want to travel at 100 km an hour you have to travel on the right
       side of the road, on a freeway, you have to stop at red lights and
       resume on green lights, you have to have a licence. In other
       words, in an increasingly complex, technological terrain, there are
       more and more rules of conditioning, of constraint, of control but
       without these constrains and controls you wouldn't have the ability
       to move so fast. So, I see no dilemma about this issue of control. I
       mean, the issue of control in itself is not a bad thing, it's the
       political abuse and pathological human reasoning that results in
       some abuse of the system or some abuse of the cultural
       conditionings that are necessary for us to perform in
       extra-ordinary ways. 

       We can't... I mean, if we're just simply running on foot we can't
       really cause a disaster even if we run into someone but if we are
       out of control in a car or if an aeroplane crashes then, of course,
       there are these very big disasters. Paul Virilio talks about this
       notion of the accident; that with every new technology there is a
       new kind of accident... 


       | top | 

       YM. That's why I would like to ask you about the new
       projects you are making now, the extra earS inspired by the
       MIT mouse with the ear on its back. 

       S: Actually, it has been a big problem to try to get that done.
       Firstly because it goes beyond the bounds of ordinary cosmetic
       surgery, in other words, it's not just about changing the shape of
       your lips or eyes or noseS or whatever. This is really about more
       re-constructive surgical techniques. Using your own skin and
       cartridge from your ribcage it would be possible to construct an
       ear that looks like a human ear but it wouldn't have the functions
       of an ear. If you implanted a sound chip and a proximity sensor
       inside your ear anyone getting close to it would hear a sound. So,
       in other words, this ear wouldn't be able to hear but it would be
       able to speak to the person who is close to it. Or, if you saw this
       ear as a kind of Internet antenna - connected to a modem and a
       wearable computer this extra ear will be able to receive and
       transmit real audio sounds. This would augment the local sounds
       that the actual ears heard. So you¹d have this sort of "global mix"
       of real audio sounds with the local sounds of the REAL ears. 

       This extra ear was a project that was begun one year and a half
       ago when I did a laser scan of my head at the Curtain University
       of Technology in Perth. That enabled me to construct a quite
       convincing life-like 3D model of the head with an extra ear and we
       made a GIF animation so the head turns from the normal side to
       the side with the two ears and, I think, if this project is
       completed... and, as far as I'm concerned, it's not going to be
       interesting unless it is completed. I mean, I'm not really concerned
       about simulation or presentation by computer modelling. What's
       intriguing is not only to simulate these possibilities, but also to
       actually construct and to experience them. So the experience of
       these alternate interfaces is of importance.

       | top | 

       YM. So, what is the stance of the artist today? I mean, has it
       always been revolutionary? 

       S. Well, I think, I've always been uneasy about the artist as simply
       a craftsperson who just simply makes or produces cultural
       artefacts that are considered beautiful or sensitive or whatever...
       What's more intriguing is the artist who works with ideas, who
       uses their art as a means of exploring the personal and the public
       and who tries to get a sense of what it means to exist in the
       world... and I'm much happier if the artist is seen as a poet or a
       philosopher than as a craftsperson.

       YM. ...but, at the same time, "just as we are near the end of
       our physiology we're at the end of our philosophy"... 


       S. Well, I think that's an appropriate quote of mine... What I was
       trying to say when I said that, you know, just as we are near the
       end of our physiology we're at the end of our philosophy is that
       idea that the body is a kind of architectural structure for
       awareness. If we were to redesign our bodies we would be
       redefining what it means to be human. Altering our architecture
       would mean adjusting our awareness in the world. So imagine the
       world of a dog that sees only in black and white or the world of a
       snake that only sees in heat patterns or the world of a bat that
       images the world in ultra-sound waves. So it's intriguing that
       human architecture structures our awareness and restricts our
       operation... and... Do we accept this biological status quo? Or, do
       we consider redefining the body, do we consider re-designing it,
       is the body seen as a prosthetic body with bits of technology
       attachef to it? 

       With the Movatar project the body itself becomes a prosthesis for
       the behaviour of an intelligent agent. In other words what is being
       created is an inverse motion capture system where an intelligent,
       autonomous and operational avatar would be able to perform in
       the real world by possessing a physical body... and if electrodes
       were not only on its' legs but also on its' facial muscles then the
       avatar will not only be able to move and manipulate in the real
       world but it would also be able to express its emotions by
       controlling the facial muscles of the human body. So, here we
       have a situation where an absent, obsolete and invaded body
       performs involuntarily for avatars on the Internet! 


       | top | 

       YM. Exactly... so, this is your latest project, right? 

       S. Yes, the intelligent avatar, the Movatar, is the most recent
       project and it will be first performed at Cyber Cultures in Sydney
       next August, so it has to be ready by then...

       YM: Thank you... 

       S: Me too...

       Athens, 27.11.1999
       Athens School of Fine Art
       Audio-typing and translation by Sevasti Despina 

       Yiannis Melanitis curated the first Stelarc's presentations in
Greece. He is
       now curating the project "New Body" which is concerned with art and
       biotechnology. "New Body" will be presented in Athens in 2004
connected to
       the Olympics and supported by the World Conference of Information
       Technology Enterprises. Yiannis Melanitis is an artist working in the
area of
       interactive performances. In "Superhuman", Melanitis's last proposal,
       suggests a purposeful mutation of the human body, one that considers
       humans as nature's organs to future mutations. Other projects involve
       robotics, interactive music and web-art.

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