Week 4: Case Study – Is the Human Body Obsolete? An Analysis of Stelarc’s Amplified Body

Amplified Body by Stelarc (1994) from V2_ on Vimeo.

 

Australian-born artist, Stelarc, constantly attempts to redefine the body through his works of art. He strongly believes in the Posthumanism philosophy which can be defined as humans and technology becoming so intertwined that there will be a push towards function and not form: “humanness will be defined by how a species operates—in other words, whether it processes information like a human, is sentient, empathic, intelligent, and such—rather than how it looks” (LaGrandeur, http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/lagrandeur20140729). In his Amplified Body performance piece, Stelarc attaches numerous sensors, robotics, and virtual reality equipment to his body in order to control multiple instruments, such as speakers, an industrial robot arm, and a video camera. By tensing his muscles, Stelarc is able to control, or at least move, one of these instruments. For example, when Stelarc tenses his upper leg muscles, it activates sound samples from a nearby computer. Also, Stelarc uses medical equipment to scan his heartbeat, finger pulse, different types of muscles, and other parts of his body, and when the medical equipment receives these pulses, it triggers sound files in the computer, the video camera, and the lighting (a description of this can be seen in the video posted above).

By intermixing his body with technology, Stelarc is emphasizing his belief that the human body as it is now has become completely obsolete (Wilson, 158). Stelarc’s argument for this is that we have now surrounded ourselves in a superior, intelligent technological environment that not only can we not distance ourselves from it, but we can’t live without it:

“Humans have created technologies and machines which are much more precise and powerful than the body. . . . Technology is what defines being human. It’s not an antagonistic alien sort of object, it’s part of our human nature. It constructs our human nature.” Stelarc (Wilson, 159).

Here, Stelarc claims that technology is human nature, but what could he possibly mean by that? Isn’t human nature the ability to feel empathy, to love, to be intelligent and all that good stuff? Well, I believe that Stelarc is trying to convey the notion that humanity hasn’t been without the use of technology ever since its start and technology has always been integrated with our lives for better or for worse. Ever since early hominids constructed tools out of materials they had easy access to, technology has been a critical part of our lives; therefore, to say that technology is human nature isn’t quite a farfetched notion. If technology has become human nature, then does that mean that Stelarc’s belief that the body is obsolete and we must rid ourselves of its limitations justified? Maybe, however I find it hard to believe that we have reached the limitations of what our bodies can do. Also, by believing that the body is your limitation, then aren’t you limiting yourself with that belief?

These questions that Stelarc manages to provoke is what makes his work so interesting; they make us reevaluate our body’s limitations and discuss the role that technology takes within our lives. In the context of the social and cultural, it’ll be a while before humans begin integrating technology into their own being (even though it has already been done by some of the artists that we’ve discussed in class). However, since it seems like we’re slowly progressing to the point where technology will become a part of us, will there be a point in the future where the integration of technology in our bodies will become the norm? In terms of technology, medicine, and the body, the use of artificial organs is seen as a respectable use of this type of integration since it is saving the life of a person. It seems as though people are more comfortable with this type of integration, whereas the type of stuff that Stelarc does seems to be only for the goal of bettering himself, as seen in this project where he attempts to achieve some type of control over machines by using his body. Are we entering a posthuman future where the intertwining of technology and the body will stop being seen as only when necessary (like artificial organs) and we’ll steer off into a more selfish use such as the attempt to amplify our body’s processes through technology?

 

Ashley Bryan Marin

 

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