THE MOST SIGNIFICANT PLANETARY PRESSURE IS NOT THE GRAVITATIONAL PULL BUT THE INFORMATION THRUST. THE BODY MUST BURST FROM ITS BIOLOGICAL, CULTURAL AND PLANETARY CONTAINMENT. IT MUST DESYNCRONIZE AND DEPART. ONCE THE BODY ATTAINS PLANETARY ESCAPE VELOCITY IT WILL BE LAUNCHED INTO POST-EVOLUTIONARY TRAJECTORIES. THE BODY BECOMES A PROJECTILE, PROPELLED BY ITS DESIRE NOT MERELY TO AFFIRM ITS SELF BUT TO BECOME SOME OTHER. OUR STRATEGY CAN NO LONGER BE TO PERPETUATE THE SPECIES BUT TO FOCUS PHYSICAL CHANGE ON EACH INDIVIDUAL. ALTHOUGH IMPLODING, MINIATURIZED TECHNOLOGY REINTEGRATES AND AMPLIFIES THE INDIVIDUAL, IT DISINTEGRATES THE SPECIES. THE DILEMMA OF THE MIND-BODY SPLIT IS OVERTAKEN BY THE TRAUMA OF THE BODY-SPECIES SPLIT. THE BODY MUST DIVERSIFY AND FORM AND FUNCTION. IN SPLITTING FROM THE SPECIES, THE BODY IS NO LONGER A SCHIZO BODY, BUT A SPLIT BODY. A BODY WITH A SPLIT PHYSIOLOGY. A BODY OF FRACTAL THAT IS BOTH POSSESSED AND PERFORMING. A BODY THAT IS A HOST FOR REMOTE AND MULTIPLE AGENTS. NOT AN ALIEN BODY, BUT A BODY THAT IS ALIEN TO ITSELF. THROUGH IT’S SUCCESS IN MAKING TECHNOLOGY, ACCUMULATING INFORMATION AND UNPLUGGING ITSELF FROM THE PLANET, THE BODY HAS CREATED POST-EVOLUTIONARY PRESSURES WHICH THREATEN THE SURVIVAL OF THE HUMAN SPECIES. AND PERHAPS NEITHER REMAINING HUMAN NOR SURVIVING AS A SPECIES IS OF ANY FURTHER IMPORTANCE…
Although the suspensions deal with the physical difficulty of the body strung up they have neither religious intent (transcending the body) nor the yearning for shamanistic empowering. They are realised with neither the intention of initiation rites nor the S&M exploration of pain and pleasure. What can be admitted though is that a painful experience does collapse the convenient distinction between the mind and body. When overwhelmed with pain you perceive yourself as a physical body that experiences, rather than a self that thinks and objectively evaluates in some kind of disconnected way. Suspended and in stress the anonymous body realises its obsolescence. The anxiety, the uncertainty that accompanies the feeling of being vulnerable. The nude and silent body at least in its static suspensions is an image of suspended animation. An anesthetized and pacified body that is obsolete but not yet extinct. That has desires but does not express them. That feels pain but remains silent and stoic. A body that neither thinks nor shows emotions. A suspended body is a zombie body. It does not think because it does not have a mind of it’s own nor any mind at all in the traditional metaphysical sense. To be suspended is to be between states. To be neither one nor the other. To be in suspense is neither being able to participate in the present nor to anticipate the outcome…
THE BODY IN SPACE
The body in space is both a primal yearning (we dream about floating and flying) and a contemporary reality with astronauts in Zero G. Between the dream and the actuality, between fantasy and gravity. To be suspended is literally to be between states. Floating expresses an effortlessness, a weightlessness. Suspension expresses the tension of the push and pull between states. But to be suspended in a 1G gravitational field means to be in a state of trauma, as the stretched skin supports the weight of the body. The stretched skin can be seen as a gravitational landscape- what it takes for the body to be suspended. The stretched skin is the physical penalty for suspending your body. The stretched skin authenticates the suspension of the body in a planetary gravitational field. The body becomes part of its own support structure.
THE STRETCHED SKIN IS BOTH A MANIFESTATION OF THE GRAVITATIONAL PULL AND OF RESISTING IT, OF SYMBOLICALLY OVERCOMING IT. IT IS PROOF OF THE BODY’S UNNATURAL POSITION IN SPACE AND IT PAYS THE PHYSICAL PENALTY FOR BEING SUSPENDED. THE BODY HAS BEEN TRANSFORMED INTO A 1G GRAVITATIONAL LANSCAPE.
FROM HARNESS TO HOOKS
The early suspension were done with harness and ropes both in static and kinetic ways. A performance that exemplified this period was done at Pinacotheca Gallery in Melbourne where the body was suspended upright as part of an installation of hanging rocks and an uprooted tree with a laser horizon line connecting the visual elements. Another for the German Cultural Centre in Tokyo had the body was suspended from a 6 metre diameter balloon. In both performances body signals like brainwaves, heartbeat, bloodflow and muscle signals were amplified to construct an acoustical landscape that immersed the audience in the changing physical and psychological condition of the body. But these suspensions were visually cluttered with all the ropes and harness. It was providing more a support of the body rather than a convincing image of suspension. The decision to string the body up with hooks inserted into the skin was to prove an elegant but physically traumatic series of experiences…
THE SECOND SPIN WAS MUCH MORE OVERWHELMING. AT FIRST THE BODY WAS TOO AMAZED AT THE MECHANICS OF WHAT WAS HAPPENING – IT WAS SPINNING, YET OBJECTIVELY ASSESSING. NOW ITS THOUGHTS WHIRLED AS WELL AS ITS BODY. FLASHING LIGHTS PULSED BY AND THE BLURRED PEOPLE PRODUCED A VISUAL BLABBER WHICH WAS AMPLIFIED BY THE SILENCE OF THE SPACE. WHEN THE SPINNING SUBSIDED THE BODY FELT FAINT, YET THE MIND WAS CLEAR, ITS THOUGHTS FRAMED BY THE WOODEN SUPPORT STRUCTURE. (“Event for Stretched Skin: Spin/ Swing”, Tokiwa Gallery, Tokyo 1977).
The 25 suspension events with insertions into the skin were performed over a period of 13 years between 1976-1988. There was only the initial intention of doing one suspension. But having hung the body horizontally face-down it triggered a series of 4 performances rotating the body in space. Positioned upside down, horizontal face-up and vertical, upright. Not only was the body in different positions but now longer static in suspension. It was spun, swung, hoisted and rotated and propelled. They were titled as events for stretched skin- the realisation that the body suspended in a 1G gravitational field pay the physical consequences for its ideas. The skin becomes part of the body’s support structure, it’s stretching generates what can be described as a gravitational landscape. This is the authentication of the action of suspending a body with mass and weight in the IG gravitational field…
IN THE EVENT, THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE SUSPENDED BODY MASS AND THE CEILING WAS SEVERED. THE BODY WAS SUSPENDED FROM 18 EQUALLY SPACED EYE-BOLTS IN THE 4 SIDE-WALLS. THIS PLACED A LOT MORE STRESS AND STRAIN ON EACH INSERTION POINT- THE SKIN WAS PULLED UP, OUT, AND TWISTED. THE BODY WAS ON THE VERGE OF PASSING OUT WHEN IT WAS LOWERED DOWN AFTER ONLY 60 SECONDS OF SUSPENSION. (“Event for Lateral Suspension”, Tamura Gallery, Tokyo 1978).
An interest developed in suspending the body in structurally alternate ways. What was important in these events was the method in which the body was strung up. “Event for Amplified Tension” (Tenjo Sajiki, Tokyo 1979) had the body suspended and supported within a tensegrity icosahedron structure. None of the poles of wood or the body were touching, everything was held together by the tension of the cables. With “Pull Out/ Pull Up: Event for Self-suspension” (Tokiwa Gallery, Tokyo 1980) the body, in a sitting position, hoisted itself up by means of a 4:1 ratio pulley system. The skin was pulled out, the body was pulled up. There was a split between what it was doing (effortlessly lifting itself) and what it was feeling (the pain of its suspended 70 kgm body). “Sitting / Swaying: Event for Rock Suspension” (Tamura Gallery, Tokyo 1980) counterbalanced the body’s weight with a ring of rocks, one for each of the 18 insertion points into the skin. The body swayed gently from side to side setting up random oscillations in the rocks. In “Moving/ Modifying: Suspension for Obsolete Body” (Espace DBD, Los Angeles 1982).
THE INSERTIONS WERE DONE WITH THE BODY SITTING ON THE FLOOR, BELOW A HALO OF ROCKS WHICH HAD BEEN SUSPENDED FROM EYE-BOLTS IN THE CEILING WITH SLIP-KNOTS. WHEN EVERYTHING WAS CONNECTED, THE CORDS WERE TUGGED, RELEASING THE ROCKS. AS THE ROCKS CAME DOWN THE BODY WENT UP. THE BODY STARTED TO GENTLY SWAY FROM SIDE TO SIDE, TRIGGERING RANDOM OSCILLATIONS OF THE RING OF ROCKS. EVERYTHING WAS IN MOTION, BALANCED AND BOUYANT. EVERYTHING WAS CONNECTED AND CONTAINED. THOUGHTS OF OBSOLESCENCE FLICKERED IN AND OUT OF THE SILENCE. THE TELEPHONE RINGS. MURMURS. DISTRACTIONS. SITTING, SUSPENDED AND ANXIOUS. (“Sitting/ Swaying: Event for Rock Suspension, Tamura Gallery, Tokyo 1980).
SITE-SPECIFIC PERFORMANCES: INDOORS/ OUTDOORS
The body is treated as a sculptural object in a spatial relationship with other objects and locations. The body is plugged into a certain site to energise the space and generate unexpected and surprising juxtapositions with other elements. The concern was to reintegrate the body with rocks, wood, water and wind. The body returns to interract with its primal elements, amplifying its elements. The “Shaft Suspension”, the “Seaside Suspension” and the “Tree Suspension” were examples of site-specific performances. In the “Shaft Suspension” the body was hoisted up and lowered down a lift-well which connected 5 floor level. A small group of invited people were able to view the suspended body from the basement looking up, the top of the shaft looking down or go up and down the building and see it emerging at every floor level. From an outcrop of rocks about 300 metres from shore, the body was suspended side-on, parallel to the horizon, looking out to sea. The body was swayed by the wind and was splashed by the crashing waves. It took several days to find a tree for the suspension in Canberra. The roots were exposed, mirroring the branch structure and the body was positioned by the cables that were strung over forks in the branches and tied to the roots below creating lines of tension between the suspended body and root structure…
STRETCHED BETWEEN WHAT IT NEVER WAS AND WHAT IT COULD NEVER BECOME; SUSPENDED BETWEEN THE INWARD PULL OF GRAVITY AND THE OUTWARD THRUST OF INFORMATION, THE BODY RETURNS TO THE TREE, ANXIOUS AND VULNERABLE AFFIRMING ITS PRIMAL ORIGINS, AMPLIFYING ITS OBSLESCENCE. TERMINAL TRAJECTORY IS PLOTTED, AN ELEGANT EXIT IS ASSURED. THE BEGINNING IS RE-ENACTED, THE END IS PROCLAIMED. THE BREEZE IS BLOWING OVER AERODYNAMIC STRETCHED SKIN, THE BODY IS ATTAINING PLANETARY ESCAPE VELOCITY. THE BRAIN IS BURSTING FROM ITS GENETIC CONFINEMENT, HOVERING BETWEEN GRAVITY AND FANTASY, INTUITIVELY. (“Prepared Tree Suspension: Event for Obsolete Body No. 6”, Black Mountain, Canberra 1982).
Suspending the naked and stretched body in such social and public places presented special problems. In 1984, The Mo David Gallery in East Village, NY sponsored a performance. “Street Suspension” was done without city or police permission. This necessitated doing the preparations in a 4th floor room in private. A cable had been stretched to the building on the opposite side of the street. When the body had been hooked up it was attached to a pulley structure which allowed it to emerge through the window and roll along the cable stopping about half-way across the street. An event that was supposed to last for approximately 30 minutes was stopped by police after only 12 minutes. The Copenhagen suspension in 1985 occurred above the Royal Theatre. It was the most public performance as it was part of the Copenhagen International Festival and was well publicised. To do this at all meant getting permission from the Festival Director, the Royal Theatre, the Union (that had to allow 2 of its members to operate the crane) and the police. Surprisingly, permission was granted the day before the performance. Initially the body was to be suspended from a helium balloon, but when assistance fell through it was decided to be hoisted up by a giant crane which was being used to repair the Royal Theatre. Here the performance would be seen as a choreography of the body in space. It would be pulled up from street level to a height of approximately 56 metres, shuttled to the end of the crane arm and then swung around 4 times through 180 degrees. The body was constantly shaking and its skin vibrating from the stiff breeze, sometimes swinging and sometimes spinning on its axis. This moving suspension lasted 30 minutes…
AS THE BODY PASSED FROM ONE FLOOR LEVEL TO ANOTHER OR FROM WINDOW TO WINDOW IT EXPLODED INTO VIEW WHERE THE LIGHT STREAMED INTO THE SHAFT. IT WAS ALTERNATIVELY BRIGHTLY ILLUMINATED AND DISAPPEARING INTO THE DARKNESS. THE BODY COULD NOT BE MERELY HOISTED UP AND LOWERED DOWN BECAUSE PROTRUDING BEAMS NECESSITATED MANEUVERING WITH FINGERTIPS AND TOES AT EACH FLOOR LEVEL, ROTATING THE BODY FROM SIDE TO SIDE. THE EXPERIENCE WAS ONE OF PIERCING, OF PROBING THE COLUMN OF AIR CONTAINED IN THE SHAFT. (“Up/ Down: Event for Shaft Suspension, Hardware Street Studio, Melbourne 1980).
THE LAST SUSPENSION
“Event for Stretched Skin/ Third Hand” was realized at the abandoned Ofuna monorail station in 1988. The amplified body with its Third Hand attached and activated by its arm and abdominal signals, remote-controlled its motorised up/down motion for approximately 35 minutes. The body was obsolete, the events were elaborated and exhausted. That ended the stretched skin suspensions- but performances using the Third Hand would now continue for another 10 years…
FROM THIS THE SUSPENSION PIECES DEVELOPED INTO METAPHORS FOR HUMAN SURVIVAL AND DEVELOPMENT. SPECIFICALLY, THEY CONNOTE THE PENETRATION OF HIS CONSCIOUSNESS BY A BOMBARDMENT OF EXTRANEOUS INFORMATION (THE HOOKS), AND HIS MASTER OF THAT ASSAULT AND THE FORCES OF NATURE (GRAVITY, HIS OWN PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL LIMITATIONS) BY FLOATING (SUSPENSION).
IAN NORTH- LINK EXHIBITION CATALOGUE STATEMENT
For more information on these performances, refer to the book “Obsolete Body :Suspensions Stelarc” (Edited by James D. Paffrath, JP Publications, Davis CA- 1984) and to Stelarc’s website
- Stelarc is an Australian artist who has performed extensively in Japan, Europe and the USA – including new music, dance festivals and experimental theatre. He has used medical instruments, prosthetics, robotics, Virtual Reality systems and the Internet to explore alternate, intimate and involuntary interfaces with the body. He has performed with a THIRD HAND, a VIRTUAL ARM, a VIRTUAL BODY and a STOMACH SCULPTURE. He has acoustically and visually probed the body- having amplified brainwaves, bloodflow and muscle signals and filmed the inside of his lungs, stomach and colon, approximately two metres of internal space. He has done twenty-five body SUSPENSIONS with insertions into the skin, in different positions and varying situations in remote locations. For FRACTAL FLESH, as part of Telepolis, he developed a touch-screen interfaced Muscle Stimulation System, enabling remote access, actuation and choreography of the body. Performances such as PING BODY and PARASITE probe notions of telematic scaling and the engineering of external, extended and virtual nervous systems for the body using the Internet. Recently for Kampnagel, he completed EXOSKELETON – a pneumatically powered 6-legged walking machine actuated by arm gestures. Current projects include the EXTRA EAR- a surgically constructed ear as an additional facial feature that coupled with a modem and a wearable computer will act as an internet antenna, able to hear RealAudio sounds and MOVATAR- an intelligent avatar that will be able to perform in the real world by possessing a physical body. It will have a sound feedback loop from the body giving the virtual entity an ear in the world. He is also working on an EXTENDED ARM – a manipulater with eleven degrees-of-freedom that extends his arm to primate proportions and a MOTION PROSTHESIS – an intelligent, compliant servo-mechanism that enables the performance of precise, repetitive and accelerated prompting or programming of the arms in real-time. In 1995 Stelarc received a three year Fellowship from The Visual Arts / Craft Board, The Australia Council. In 1997 he was appointed Honorary Professor of Art and Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University. He is presently Artist-In-Residence for Hamburg City. In 1999 he was re-appointed as a Senior Research Scholar for the Faculty of Art and Design at the Nottingham Trent University. His art is represented by the Sherman Galleries in Sydney.
- Spin Suspsension Photographer: Helmut Steinhausser
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Posted: 13 November 2005
Short URL: http://neme.org/251