‘Ear on Arm’ by Stelarc
“Engineering an alternate anatomical architecture, one that also performs telematically. Certainly what becomes important now is not merely the body’s identity, but its connectivity- not its mobility or location, but its interface. ” — Stelarc
Stelarc is a performance artist who has been known to physically alter his body and replace parts of his anatomy with digital parts or prosthetics (as objects of excess instead of loss) to explore the idea of extended connectivity with the world. In the face of advanced technology and the subliminal interconnectedness that exponentially increases with it, Stelarc’s ‘Ear on Arm’ is both a permanent, lifetime artwork and a piece of detailed, functional design that emphasises the idea of an alternate digital dimension we all inhabit, not dictated or limited by our physical bodies. It took two surgeries and meticulous research and procedures to implant the third ear on his left arm. The first one involved altering the physical body to allow it to accept a semi organic material to naturally inhabit and grow into the skin. While the second procedure involved the insertion of a microphone that would then serve as a transmitter.
Instead of allowing our physical existence become subservient to the intangible prowess of technology, Stelarc’s externally implanted digital ear, permanently alters the human body, turning it into a bridge between our physicality and the technology with which we interact with on a daily basis. It shifts the human body into the technological dimension, extruding it’s awareness and experience. As part of this work, he further planted receivers and speakers in his mouth — if someone were to call him, he would verbally communicate with them through his ‘Ear on Arm’ but hear their voices in his ‘head’. This then becomes an immersive yet pervasively interactive experience.
An isolated person in a totally remote and detached body, is able to intrude his personal and physical shell via technology. The ear acts as a portal between these two normally separated realms. It becomes a tangible conduit for technology and digital input/information. Hence this work could also be seen as an exploration of new media and technology’s influence and power in our lives. It critiques how we willingly have let it pervade our consciousness and permanently distort our innate perceptions that were once formed based on our own personal experiences. In the twenty first century where everything is connected by the global internet, willing and non-willing forms of collaboration shape our perceptions more so than in silo.
Stelarc’s ‘Ear on Arm’ does however, ‘prophecise’ a radical stage that we could be heading towards. Instead of relying on external devices to communicate with someone who is physically away, if we integrated tech and digital prosthetics or micro inputs into our system, we would be able to extend ourselves as part devices to directly communicate with other bodies in other places. It would enable us to personally feel and listen to people, connecting body to body via mere radio or bluetooth signals. The foreign intermediary of the ‘phone’ and the external net dissolves, propelling us into a utopian evolutionary state that will then have literally adapted to survive in the alternate dimension.
However, to do so would be irreversible and we have to question if full intimacy with technology is something we want to embrace in the future. By removing the barrier between the net and our body, though we might be able to process incoming intangible information into tangible emotions, we also risk losing full control and agency over our private personal space.