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Prosthetics, Robotics & Remote Existence:
Post-Evolutionary Strategies

by Stelarc

Stelarc is an Australian artist whose explorations of the physiological structure of the human body have included body suspensions, films of the insides of his body, designing robotics and prosthetic devices, and amplified body performances. He is currently in residency at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology's Advanced Computer Graphics Center. The following text was originally presented at the Second International Symposium on Electronic Art (SISEA) in Groningen, the Netherlands, in November 1990. It also served as issue # 47 of "ArtCom Magazine" (Volume 11 Number 3, April 1991)

1. R E D E S I G N I N G  T H E  B O D Y / R E D E F I N I N G W H A T  I S  H U M A N .

It is no longer meaningful to see the body as a s i t e for the psyche or the social, but rather as a  s t r u c t u r e  to be monitored and modified. The body not as a subject but as an object -- NOT AS AN OBJECT OF DESIRE BUT AS AN OBJECT FOR DESIGNING. The p s y c h o - s o c i a l  period was characterized by the body circling itself, orbiting itself, illuminating and inspecting itself by physical prodding and metaphysical contemplation. But having confronted i t s i m a g e o f o b s o l e s c e n c e , the body is traumatized to split from the realm of subjectivity and consider the necessity of re-examining and possibly  r e d e s i g n i n g  its very structure. ALTERING THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE BODY RESULTS IN ADJUSTING AND EXTENDING ITS AWARENESS OF THE WORLD. As an object, the body can be amplified and accelerated, attaining planetary escape velocity. It becomes a post-evolutionary projectile, d e p a r t i n g  and  d i v e r s i f y i n g  in form and function.

2. O B S O L E T E  B O D Y .

The body is neither a very efficient nor a very durable structure. It  m a l f u n c t i o n s  often and f a t i g u e s quickly; its performance is determined by its age. It is  s u s c e p t i b l e to disease and is doomed to a certain and early death. Its survival parameters are very slim -- it can survive only weeks without food, days without water and minutes without oxygen. The body's LACK OF MODULAR DESIGN and its over-reactive immunological system make it difficult to replace malfunctioning organs. It might be the height of technological folly to consider the body obsolete in form and function yet it might the highest of human realizations. For it is only when the body becomes aware of its present position that it can map its post-evolutionary strategies. It is no longer a matter of perpetuating the human species by REPRODUCTION, but of  e n h a n c i n g  the individual by REDESIGNING. What is significant is no longer male-female  i n t e r c o u r s e  but human-machine  i n t e r f a c e . THE BODY IS OBSOLETE. We are at the end of philosophy and human physiology. Human thought recedes into the human past.

3. T H E  I N V A S I O N O F  T E C H N O L O G Y .

M i n i a t u r i z e d  and  b i o c o m p a t i b l e , technology lands on the body. Although unheralded, it is one of the most important events in human history -- focussing physical change on each individual. Technology is not only  a t t a c h e d , but is also  i m p l a n t e d . ONCE A CONTAINER, TECHNOLOGY NOW BECOMES A COMPONENT OF THE BODY. As an instrument, technology fragmented and de-personalized experience -- as a component it has the potential to SPLIT THE SPECIES. It is no longer of any advantage to either remain "human" or to evolve as a species. EVOLUTION ENDS WHEN TECHNOLOGY INVADES THE BODY. Once technology provides each person with the potential to progress individually in its development, the cohesiveness of the species is no longer important. What is now intriguing is not the mind-body distinction but the b o d y - s p e c i e s s p l i t . The body must burst from its biological, cultural and planetary containment. The significance of technology may be that it culminates in an  a l i e n  a w a r e n e s s -- one that is POST-HISTORIC, TRANS-HUMAN and even EXTRATERRESTRIAL. The first sign of an alien intelligence may well come from this planet.

4. H O L L O W  B O D Y /  S O L A R  S K I N .

Off the Earth, the body's c o m p l e x i t y , s o f t n e s s and  w e t n e s s  would be difficult to sustain. The strategy should be to HOLLOW, HARDEN, and DEHYDRATE the body to make it more durable and less vulnerable. The present o r g a n -ization of the body is unnecessary. The solution to modifying the body is not to be found in its internal structure, but lies simply on its surface. THE SOLUTION IS NO MORE THAN SKIN DEEP. The significant event in our evolutionary history was a change in the mode of locomotion. Future development will occur with a c h a n g e o f s k i n . If we could engineer a SYNTHETIC SKIN which could absorb oxygen directly through its pores and could efficiently convert light into chemical nutrients, we could r a d i c a l l y r e d e s i g n the body, eliminating many of its redundant systems and malfunctioning organs -- minimizing toxin build-up in its chemistry. THE HOLLOW BODY WOULD BE A BETTER HOST FOR TECHNOLOGICAL COMPONENTS.

5. P A N - P L A N E T A R Y  P H Y S I O L O G Y .

Extraterrestrial environments a m p l i f y the body's obsolescence, intensifying pressures for its re-engineering. There is a necessity to design a more self-contained, energy-efficient body, with extended sensory antennae and augmented cerebral capacity. U n p l u g g e d  from this planet -- from its complex, interacting energy chain and protective biosphere -- the body is biologically ill-equipped, not only in terms of its sheer survival, but also in its inability to adequately perceive and perform in the immensity of outer-space. Rather than developing specialist bodies for specific sites, we should consider a pan-planetary physiology that is durable, flexible and capable of functioning in varying atmospheric conditions, gravitational pressures and electro-magnetic fields.

6. N O  B I R T H  /  N O  D E A T H -- T H E  H U M  O F  T H E  H Y B R I D .

Technology transforms the nature of human existence,
e q u a l i z - i n g  the physical potential of bodies and
s t a n d a r d i z i n g  human sexuality. With fertilization now occurring outside the womb and the possibility of nurturing the fetus in an artificial support system THERE WILL TECHNICALLY BE NO BIRTH. And if the body can be redesigned in a modular fashion to facilitate the replacement of malfunctioning parts, then TECHNICALLY THERE WOULD BE NO REASON FOR DEATH -- given the accessibility of replacements. Death does not authenticate existence. It is an out-moded evolutionary strategy. The body need no longer be r e p a i r e d but simply have parts  r e p l a c e d. Extending life no longer means "existing" but rather being "operational." Bodies need not age or deteriorate; they would not run down nor even fatigue; they would s t a l l then s t a r t - -possessing both the potential for renewal and reactivation. In the extended space-time of extraterrestrial environments, THE BODY MUST BECOME IMMORTAL TO ADAPT. Utopian dreams become post evolutionary imperatives. THIS IS NO MERE FAUSTIAN OPTION NOR SHOULD THERE BE ANY FRANKENSTEINIAN FEAR IN TAMPERING WITH THE BODY.

7. A N E S T H E T I Z E D   B O D Y  /  T H E   A T R O P H Y   O F  E C S T A S Y.

The importance of technology is not simply in the pure power it generates but in the  r e a l m o f a b s t r a c t i o n  it produces through its operational speed and its development of extended sense systems. Technology p a s s i f i e s the body. Because technology so successfully mediates between the body and the world, it disconnects the body from many of its functions. DISTRAUGHT AND DISCONNECTED, THE BODY CAN ONLY RESORT TO INTERFACE AND SYMBIOSIS. The body may not yet surrender its a u t o n o m y but certainly its m o b i l i t y . The body plugged into a machine network needs to be passified. In fact, to function in the future and to truly achieve a hybrid symbiosis the body will need to be increasingly anesthetized...

8. H Y B R I D H U M A N - M A C H I N E  S Y S T E M S .

The problem with space travel is no longer with the precision and reliability of technology but with the vulnerability and durability of the human body. In fact, it is now time to REDESIGN HUMANS, TO MAKE THEM MORE COMPATIBLE TO THEIR MACHINES. It is not merely a matter of "mechanizing" the body. It becomes apparent in the zero G, frictionless and oxygen-free environment of outer-space that technology is even more durable and functions more efficiently than on Earth. It is the human component that has to be sustained and also protected from small changes of pressure, temperature and radiation. The issue is HOW TO MAINTAIN HUMAN PERFORMANCE OVER EXTENDED PERIODS OF TIME. Symbiotic systems seem the best strategy. I m p l a n t e d components can energize and amplify developments;  e x o s k e l e t o n s  can power the body; r o b o t i c  s t r u c t u r e s  can become hosts for a body insert. And with  m i c r o m i n i a t u r i z e d  r o b o t s we will now be able to c o l o n i z e the surface and internal tracts to augment the bacterial populations -- to probe, monitor and protect the body.

9. T O W A R D S  H I G H - F I D E L I T Y  I L L U S I O N .

With t e l e o p e r a t i o n systems, it is possible to project human presence and perform physical actions in remote and extraterrestrial locations. A single operator could direct a colony of robots in different locations simultaneously or scattered human experts might collectively control a particular surrogate robot. Teleoperation systems would have to be more than hand-eye mechanisms. They would have to create kinesthetic feel, providing the sensation of  o r i e n t a t i o n,  m o t i o n  and body  t e n s i o n . Robots would have to be semi- autonomous, capable of "intelligent disobedience." With t e l e a u t o m a t i o n (Conway/Volz/Walker), forward simulation -- with time and position clutches -- assists in overcoming the problem of real time-delays, allowing prediction to improve performance. The experience of Telepresence (Minksy) becomes the high fidelity illusion of Tele-existence (Tachi). ELECTRONIC SPACE BECOMES A MEDIUM OF ACTION RATHER THAN INFORMATION. It meshes the body with its machines in ever-increasing complexity and interactivity. The body's form is enhanced and its functions are extended. ITS PERFORMANCE PARAMETERS ARE NEITHER LIMITED BY ITS PHYSIOLOGY NOR ITS IMMEDIATE SPACE. Electronic space restructures the body's architecture and multiplies its operational possibilities.



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