Week 4 Case Study: Ear On Arm Suspension: Is the body really “biologically inadequate”?

Stelarc is an Australian performance artist whose works primarily explore the relationship between technology and human body as well as the limitation of human bodies by using his own body as the medium. His works usually involve modern technology and robotics so as to “enhance his body in a technological and physical matter.” For example, in the work named “Ear On Arm”, an extra ear was integrated into his left forearm. He is also famous for his suspension works.

Ear On Arm
Ear On Arm

In this blog post, I will mainly talk about his 2012 suspension work named “Ear On Arm Suspension” which took place on 8th March, at Scott Livesey Galleries in Melbourne, Australia. Stelarc’s body was impaled by 16 stainless steel hooks when he lay on the sculpture of Ear On Hand and then he was suspended about 50 cm above the sculpture and started spinning around for about 15 minutes. After the spinning ceased and his body was in the correct orientation, Stelarc was lowered down.

According to Stelarc, “The suspensions are experiments in bodily sensation, expressed in different spaces and in diverse situations. They are not actions for interpretation, nor require any explanation. They are not meant to generate any meaning. Rather they are sites of indifference and states of erasure. The body is empty, absent to its own agency and obsolete”.

However, as soon as I saw his suspension works, I started to wonder about his intention behind the ghastly-looking  suspension works and gained a totally new perspective on my own body. To me, it both proves and disproves the idea that the body is “biologically inadequate”. On one hand, it supports the idea that the body is “biologically inadequate” because after long period of suspension, the pain receptors in body become numb to the pain input from the skins in which the hooks are impaled into. Basically Stelarc could not feel anything but numb, which is the same as he writes, “Suspended and in stress the anonymous body realises its obsolescence.”   On the other hand: that the human body is not biologically inadequate. His suspension works enable me to realize the fact that our human body is not that vulnerable and it is much stronger than we think it is. I also think that doing a suspension over the sculpture of his previous work is also a very interesting, playful and thought-provoking idea.

In a wider social context, Stelarc provokes people to think about the capabilities and limitations of their own bodies, as well as the relationship between technology and human bodies (i.e. the relationship between the metal hooks and his body in the suspension) even though he did not intend to.

Technology and science also plays a very important role in his suspension works. Not only the metallic hooks inserting into his bodies acting as the physical extension from his body, but also the weight distribution and the locations of the hooks are carefully calculated with surgical precision prevent him from severe injury before every suspension show.

Tian Wu

P.S. If you are eager to learn more about Stelarc, you can watch this interview here.

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