Australian performance artist, Stelarc, uses technology to extend his body and reconceive it as both operating with and through machines. While Stelarc uses mechanical prostheses, he challenges the traditional conception of prosthetics as substituting a lack, and rather sees them in terms of excess and expansion. He also believes that the idea of the cyborg is nothing new,
“Bodies are both Zombies and Cyborgs. We have never had a mind of own and we often perform involuntarily- conditioned and extremely prompted. Ever since we evolved as hominids and developed bipedal locomotion, two limbs became manipulators and we constructed artifacts, instruments and machines. In other words we have always been coupled with technology. We have always been prothetic bodies. We fear the involuntary and we are becoming increasingly automated and extended. But we fear what we have always been and what we have already become- Zombies and Cyborgs.”
Stelarc’s emphasis here that we act habitually and automatically directly summons Henri Bergson’s main thesis on laughter as revealing the machine that was always already within the human. Stelarc also claims, “We are living in an age of excess and indifference. Of prosthetic augmentation and extended operational systems. An age of Organs Without Bodies.” The excess and indifference is the prosthetic and the second consciousness or the anesthesia of the heart. The necessity of indifference as armor continues to be the case as man extends into the machine. The emphasis onexcess also calls to laughter as expenditure and excess. The excess of prosthetics and of laughter are both an attempt to fuse with an outside of the body.
Stelarc has engaged in multiple projects and surgeries to fuse with the machine. In 2006, he surgically appended a third ear to his forearm made of his own skin cells, soft tissue and flexible cartilage. The extra ear was first created in a computer modeling, beginning as a technological ear, which then became flesh. He had a small microphone implanted in the ear in order to transmit audio signals wirelessly to the internet with the goal of allowing people all over to the possibility of hearing what his third ear was hearing. This introduces the idea of a networked body, plugged in and tuned in to other bodies, as well as extending beyond its own skin as a border or boundary. For the networked body, the physical human body is irrelevant, and it is the projected simulacral body that becomes significant. For Stelarc, the body has been freed by its extension into the machine. Reality doesn’t always support the idea, as Stelarc’s body rejected the microphone and became infected. His physical body wasn’t prepared or equipped to become machine and incorporate technology directly into its flesh. He goes against his own human body, fighting it as he tries to push it beyond its limits. In this sense, Stelarc becomes the body at war with itself, where his own body acts as an obstacle to his desired recognition and understanding of self as cyborg.
“The Third Ear” project was part of a larger experiment in creating what Stelarc terms “internet organs” for the body. He is interested in creating extra artificial organs and appendages to be surgically added to the body so that it can function better in technological and media terrain. He refers to “re-organizing” the architecture of the body to combine artificial organs and technologies with the natural body because he thinks the biological body is not well organized and needs to be internet enabled. The internet organs allow for the existence of the networked body that can project its presence beyond the space it inhabits.
In addition to targeting the internal structure of the body as something to be altered, Stelarc also uses prosthetics that are purely external and detachable. His “Exoskeleton” created in 1998 is a six legged walking machine that is powered and controlled by arm movements. Stelarc’s body remains extremely rigid while controlling this machine. His body appears even more rigid than the machine itself, which has some degree of fluidity. With the exoskeleton, man is literally extended by machine and able to control his own extension. It is also undeniable that the exoskeleton resembles a grossly enlarged mechanical insect or futuristic machine animal. With the fusion of the human and the machine, the animal is also erected as a third.