(NSFW) Stelarc Has an Ear in His Arm. Yes, an Ear in His Arm.

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"People will become portals of Internet experience. For example, I might be able to hack into your body and listen to what you're hearing in Dallas while I'm in Melbourne. While simultaneously I might be seeing with someone's eyes in London, while someone in Tokyo might be remotely accessing and activating my arm. Increasingly, we'll have a much more distributed sensory experience of the world that won't be limited to the local space we inhabit." -- Stelarc


Standing roughly 5-6 and dressed in all black, Stelarc stands out at this NorthPark-area Starbucks. It's partially because of his gentle Australian accent and leathery, brimmed hat. It's mostly due to the ear that was inserted and fused to the vascular region beneath the skin of his forearm, which he's showing me as he sips a soy latte.

The man seated next to us is visibly terrified.

It would be easy to make assumptions. To quickly label the Aussie performance artist a notoriety-seeker, but that simply isn't the case. He's soft-spoken, wildly introspective and passionate. Since the '60s he's been driven to create and explore the human form's usefulness, limits and architectural role in space. That trajectory spurs the next, which is shaking down Free Will; debunking any division between technological and physical realms; and fostering interaction that unites geographic divides.

Soon, this ear will be wired with a Wi-Fi-enabled microphone, so others may access his arm as a remote listening device. But really, we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Stelarc is in town to hang five people by their skin and spin them slowly like human laundry. So let's start there.

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Around 1976 Stelarc became interested with the body as a floating sculptural work. He was hoisted, tethered and lifted in various ways but wasn't pleased with the outcome, aesthetically. The tools used were cumbersome to look at; he wanted cleaner lines. That's when he found some images of tribal groups with hooks through their skin. He envisioned a body suspended by wire, supported by hooks, and thought it was interesting. He sought medical council to figure out the whats and wheres of making it happen, but was repeatedly turned down. So, Stelarc did his own research and called on friends to help push fish hooks into his skin and hang him above busy intersections, in galleries and other site-specific landscapes.

For about a decade, these suspension experiments were his art's focus. In an attempt to explore the physical and psychological parameters of the body, Stelarc dangled over New York City's streets, Jogashima's watery shores and Copenhagen's skyline. He learned a lot, like that wading through salt water with hooked skin is miserable and that a windy day, when elevated 60 meters over Copenhagen, can really freak you out.

He couldn't have predicted then that he'd start a movement, but that's exactly what happened. He's in town now because a convention of suspension enthusiasts flew him in. This modern take on the act seems to focus more on thrill, initiation and a sort of rite of passage -- most of which is lost on Stelarc. Still, he's a sort of guru within that community, an early artful iteration of a modern wave of body modifiers and suspension groups.

In addition to speaking about his work with hooks and skin on Saturday night at the Lakewood Theater, he's partnering with a team called Wings of Desire to do a very rare group suspension presentation. Stelarc is choreographing, designing and filming the project, which will run on a live feed for those unable to attend, but will not be participating himself. (Check back for live feed link on Saturday.)

While he doesn't shy away from discussing his work with suspension, Stelarc has certainly moved on to other projects. I asked him about the planning, design and intention behind his more famous recent acts, like the ear arm. Here's what he had to say.

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Jeremy Inman
Jeremy Inman

My girlfriend works at a robotics company and met this guy yesterday. She posted a picture she took of the ear arm.

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