Hanging around Stelarc

Stelarc did a live performance on Saturday, 26 February, of his StickMan / miniStickMan. It was part of the “Future U” exhibition at RMIT Gallery that included Stelarc, Patricia Piccinini and other artists.

StickMan consists of an aluminium spine and limbs, powered by pneumatics electronics, the armature is suspended from the ceiling. Wires, cables and a coiled pneumatic hose are connected to it. Stelarc is strapped into the metal armature, pneumatic pistons pumping the limbs. He holds onto the handles of his StickMan, not to control it, but to hang on. Exploring the possibilities of this interaction with the machine and public, Stelarc pivoted on one leg, trying to remain relaxed while being controlled by the machine and the public.

Given the limited options of miniStickMan is somewhat repetitive except for the human element. The shadows of the man and machine are projected on one wall, a larger than life video of the live event the other. There is an industrial soundscape generated by sensors on the spine of the exoskeleton. It is animated by a background algorithm determined by the three of the limbs of miniStickMan. The public can change the position of miniStickMan.

This is not a dance or a performance with a beginning, middle and end. It is not about personal expression, beauty or taste, aesthetic choices or identity. It is a five-hour-long durational performance art piece about physical endurance and tolerance of the restrictions. I wonder if I should be sketching Stelarc, like a life model as he poses.

Stelarc, along with Chris Burden, was part of the masochistic body art/performance art of the 1970s, where the artist’s body is the medium for art. Stelarc would suspend himself with hooks through his skin. In the 1990s, he started integrating robotics with his body. He is one of the few artists to have his work reviewed by the BMJ (aka British Medical Journal). An earlier project, Stelarc’s Extended Arm 2000, a robot arm is on display in the corridor in a vitrine.

Stelarc is a performance art star of Australian contemporary art; he is like a septuagenarian rock star with a single name. When I ran into a friend and said that I’d just been to see Stelarc’s StickMan, he replied that he preferred Stelarc’s earlier work. Is he expecting a Stelarc’s greatest hits retrospective?

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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