In/Visible: Stelarc: The Man with the Ear-Arm
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A smart man recently asked me, "Why does Stelarc
have an ear on his arm?" I replied that it has to do with ideas about how the body is not located where it's located anymore; that in this wild world of instantaneous reproduction and projection and distribution, we are located in several places at once. The ear won't ever hear—it's eventually just going to have a microphone that will be connected to the web so that anyone anywhere will be able to hear what it hears. It will be the listener's ear, not Stelarc's ear. You'll have an ear on his body. It will also be Bluetooth enabled, so you'll be able to call the ear and the receiver will be implanted inside Stelarc's mouth. If he closes his mouth while you talk to him, your voice will only be projected into the inside of Stelarc's head. If he opens his mouth, your voice will be heard by anybody Stelarc is standing near.
"Yes, but why does he have an ear on his arm?" my friend continued.
And it was a fair question.
Stelarc is the name (his last and first names conjoined) of an Australian artist who has been making performances that involve technological extensions to and experiments on his body since the 1960s. His most famous project is the as-yet-unfinished ear-on-arm, but he's done many others, including throwing the products of his and a fellow artist's liposuction into a robot-like blender for a gallery installation and being suspended by his skin 25 times.
I've never seen any of Stelarc's work in person—except when I sat down to do this interview with him. Meaning: I've seen the arm.
It was hidden under a black jacket (DO NOT HIDE YOUR ARM-EAR UNDER A BUSHEL!), so I asked to see it, which felt slightly dirty. It looked like it looks in the photographs with one important distinction: the two large scars near it. They produced in me that queasy-stomach feeling that makes me uncomfortable in my own body out of something like extreme empathy.
For me that was the best part, so I tried to ask him about queasiness. I tried to ask him slightly more personal and loosening questions. (Is your body completely covered in scars under there? What are you going to do with your body when it stops living?) He's an academic and has quite a set script, which I don't mind too much—but when I asked questions that went further, I didn't get too far. I left with the impression that Stelarc is a lovely person of great intellect, but perhaps more Cartesian than he'd want to let on. A great artist? I'm not yet convinced.
Listen in and see what you think.