Contemporary Art @ Boğaziçi - Interview Project, 2010

Stelarc (Stelios Arcadiou, Limassol, 1946)

Diğdem Demirel (BU) & Özlem Şencan (BU, Industrial Engineering),,

Stelarc’s works focus on extending the capabilities of human body. He creates his pieces around the concept that the human body is absolete. In his performances, he tries to integrate modern technology with his body. His body is the origin of his performances. Most of the time he aims to extend his body’s limits. Several times in his performances, he suspended himself in flesh hook suspension. He performed robotic third arm. By doing so he rebels to the foretold destiny of human body which will decompose eventually.

Şencan & Demirel: Do you separate your art life into main parts. Like the times when you started doing your first artworks, and other periods. Which art works of yours show this transition? What are the main effects to make your art go from one period to another?

Stelarc: I began doing performance when I discovered I was a bad painter in art school! The first artworks I made were goggles and helmets that altered your binocular perception. I filmed 3 m of internal body space (into the lungs, stomach and intestine) from 1973-1975. The Third Hand project begins a year before the first suspension event. So the physically difficult performances did not precede the technologically based events. There has always been an oscillation of concern between the biological and the machinic, which generates the virtual. So there were no transitions from one kind of performance to another. Rather there was an oscillation of concerns from the physical parameters of the body to its technological augmentation.

Şencan & Demirel: When people see your suspension events, they think of Hindu or Indian rituals. Have you ever been to these kinds of rituals?

Stelarc: No, I've never seen a Hindu or Indian rituals. In fact I've never been to India or other parts of Asia where this kind of activity is practised. But I did see some images in a book of piercing the skin. The performances see the body as a sculptural object, an evolutionary object. The performances were neither spiritual nor shamanistic in intent.

Şencan & Demirel: Do you follow a strict discipline to train your body for your performances?

Stelarc: No I never did condition my body especially for the performances. I was generally fit. There were no special techniques either in doing the suspensions. It was just a matter of realising there was a point in time when thinking had to cease and the action had to occur.

Şencan & Demirel:Have you always been interested in enhancing the body?

Stelarc: Well, perhaps it should not be thought so much about "enhancing" but rather about exploring "alternate" anatomical architectures. The projects are not about eugenics but rather about realising the evolutionary architecture of the body is inadequate, especially now when the body needs to perform in mixed realities, seamlessly sliding from the biological, to the machinic and the virtual.

Şencan & Demirel: You always work with your body. Your body is your form of representation. How do you feel being both an artist and an artwork?

Stelarc: This body became the convenient medium of both expression and experience. It was not enough to play with ideas, but rather to actualise those ideas physically, experiencing the performance and thus being able to articulate what occurred. I was always envious of athletes, dancers and singers as they use their bodies as their modes of expression.

Şencan & Demirel: You think a human is not an entity sitting here with two arms and two legs, so what something besides?

Stelarc: The human is this body, but one that has developed an awareness, operating in social institutions and conditioned by particular cultures, at this point in time of its evolution and history.

Şencan & Demirel: Did you feel pain during suspension events of your body?

Stelarc: Yes, they suspensions were physically difficult to do. I decided not use medication or anaesthetic in doing the performances. So you can imagine how painful they must have been.

Şencan & Demirel: How did the idea of 'third hand' come to your mind?

Stelarc: Having explored the physical parameters of the body, I was intrigued about how to extend the body with technology. Technology is about excess. I was not interested in prosthetic replacements but rather of prosthetic augmentation of the body. The Third Hand was actuated by the electrical signals from my abdominal and leg muscles.
Şencan & Demirel: You always speak about redesigning the human body. How should it be redesigned?

Stelarc: The artist generates more questions than answers. All of these projects and performances have been about tentatively probing how the body can be augmented machinically and virtually. The body has experimented with a Third Hand, an Extended Arm, a Stomach Sculpture, an Exoskeleton, a Prosthetic Head and is now surgically constructing and stem-cell growing an extra ear on his arm.

In conclusion, Stelarc was very kind to us. He replied to our emails as quickly as possible accepting our interview proposal. We were deeply effected by him using his body as an art work, as a sculpture. That is why we prepeared our questions focusing on ‘his body as an art work’. He is really a new media artist because he claims that technology will conquer human body one day.

While talking about performance artist or body is art work, another name came to our mind inevitaly and immediatly. She was Orlan.We call her ‘female version of Stelarc’. Because firstly they are against traditional idea of beauty. Stelarc is not handsome or doesn’t have a sexy body. Upon that instead of trying to be fit or sexy or handsome, he uses his body as an equipment.Orlan too is against this classical idea of beauty. She uses silicone not to be more beautiful, instead even to be uglier we can say.

Secondly these two artists are very similar because they share two common excuses of 101 excuses of art. These common excuses are ‘risky’ and ‘self-punishment’. Although they do not see it as punishment,audiences and art lovers see it as a painful self punishment. Even it is for the sake of art,suspending your body or having an plastic surgery without any narcosis are stiil amazing matters which are difficult to understand,we believe. With the help of this interview we tried to understand from Stelarc himself.