Professor Stelarc is an Australian performance artist known for going to extremes, from aggressive voluntary surgeries and robotic third arms to flesh-hook suspensions and prosthetics. For over 40 years he has been pushing the physical, conceptual, and technological boundaries of the human body. His work has inspired and awed people the world over, and given many a new perspectives on what the body means, where it begins and ends. Since the early 70’s, ever since discovering he was a bad painter in Art School, Stelarc taught in Japan for 19 years and became a full-time artist 3 years ago. At present he is a Distinguished Research Fellow at the School of Design and Art at Curtin University, Perth Australia. “I’ve always been envious of dancers and gymnasts who use their bodies as their medium of expression. As a performance artist you have to accept the physical consequences of your actions. So suspending your body, inserting a sculpture into your stomach and constructing an ear on your arm requires a certain indifference, being open to whatever eventuates” he tells me. This is a fascinating interview with one of the most open-minded and creative individuals I’ve been fortunate to speak with.
You are famous for the statement “the human body is obsolete” tell us more about what you mean by this and ways in which the body can be better augmented?
The body now inhabits a terrain of speedy, robust and reliable machines, with sensor and computational systems that far exceed our capabilities. The body in its present form and with these present functions is inadequate. Asserting the body is obsolete is not alluding to some kind of disembodied existence. Rather the body’s design is flawed, with slim survival parameters. Our very functions and interactions in the world result in our death. We should consider alternate anatomical architectures. Alter the body’s architecture and you adjust its awareness of the world. Our physiology largely determines our philosophy.
Many people and companies such as Calico (part of Google’s parent, Alphabet) are exploring the subject of solving death. It sounds bazaar but is death merely a medical condition that we have not yet found a treatment for? The consequences of living forever will, of course, be felt by nature most. The reality is, though the global population is set to increase to over 11 billion by the year 2100, we will never see every human living forever.
I suspect that there would not be an instant solution. There would probably be incremental adjustments to allow a body not only to extend its longevity but also to continue living at optimal mental and physical capacity. Gradually, over time there would be social adjustment to this altered condition. The immediate question that comes to mind is what age is determined optimal and who determines that age. It’s not only about physical condition but having enough time to understand the world and act appropriately in it. Of course we can justify the biological status quo and accept that although the body might deteriorate over the years, it is simultaneously gaining the wisdom to existentially accept its condition. Is it possible to dissociate our physical and mental states? An the interesting outcome in studying cell senescence, would be not only to prevent ageing but possibly reverse ageing. There would be all kinds of social and ethical issues generated. Reverse it in what way? Does the individual make that decision or does it become a social imperative. And if the slowing down and even prevention of ageing possibly occurs, then yes, we have a population problem. But only if we continue to inhabit a closed bio-system. Without sounding too sci-fi, off world colonies would become essential. Looked at positively, life is rare in our solar system and living in off world colonies is not only a solution for overpopulation but also it makes sense it terms of a smarter survival strategy for the human species.