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5 Notes

Stelarc (1946 - )

American philosopher of technology Don Idhl has written extensively on postphenomenology — the study of the phenomenology of technology. He divided our relationship with technology into three major categories: embodiment as an extension of our bodies (like eyeglasses we forget we’re wearing), hermeneutic as an extension of perception (like the microscope through which we see what would be invisible), and alterity as an expression of other (like when we curse at our computer like it was a person).

The work of Australian performance artist Stelarc explores those concepts through the lens of post-humanism, the idea that our bodies are obsolete and waiting for us to create better ones. He talks about our bodies being made up of new kinds of flesh: circulating flesh (the blood in my veins might end up in another person), fractal flesh (the controlling of a body by impulses from somewhere else), and haptic flesh (senses that are extended beyond the body). Stelarc just isn’t afraid to push those boundaries further than most of us would ever consider.

His early work in the 1960s focused on suspensions — hanging his body from hooks through his flesh, sometimes counter-balanced by weights and then (later) connected to industrial servos that moved his body for him. He’s best known, though, for his technology work: he built a third hand controlled by the muscles of his abdomen capable of independent action from his other two hands and exo-skeletons that held his body and acted as an extension. In 2007, he made news when he had an ear grown from his own cells and implanted in his forearm as a third ear

Stelarc’s work is deeply rooted in phenomenology, even if he’s pushing that beyond the Uncanny Valley into areas uncomfortable for an audience. In a 2007 interview, Stelarc argued: ”There are no ideas inside my head. There are no images inside my head. There are no memories inside my head. These are generated by my interaction with the world.”

Even if we aren’t ready to stick hooks in our flesh or let our bodies be controlled by alien impulses, Stelarc’s description of his artistic process can still provide us all inspiration: he’s embracing the risky unknown full of emergent possibility. He argues that’s what all artists have always done. “Artistic practice is the realm of exploring, experimenting and exposing,” he wrote. “It is about ambivalence, ambiguity and the slippage between intention and actuality. It is not simplistically an act of affirmation but of generating anxiety and uncertainty. Of accidents and surprises. That’s what artists have always been doing and will continue to do as an integral part of being curious and creative.”

1 Notes

A 2011 lecture by Stelac at the University of Warwick that explores his work in the framework of circulating flesh, fractal flesh and haptic flesh.

4 Notes

For his piece “Third Ear,” Stelarc convinced a surgeon to implant a cell-cultivated ear in his forearm.

For his piece “Third Ear,” Stelarc convinced a surgeon to implant a cell-cultivated ear in his forearm.

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Stelarc’s piece "Exoskeleton" featured a “six-legged, pneumatically powered walking machine.”

Stelarc’s piece "Exoskeleton" featured a “six-legged, pneumatically powered walking machine.”

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Stelarc’s piece "Third Hand" was controlled by muscle signals from his abdomen.

Stelarc’s piece "Third Hand" was controlled by muscle signals from his abdomen.

2 Notes

William Castle (1914-1977)

In his day, William Castle was known as the King of Gimmicks. Even though his body of work included assistant directing for Orson Wells (The Lady From Shanghai, 1947) and producing for Roman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby, 1968), he’s best remembered as a B-movie shock filmmaker with a flair for promotional stunts. Here’s a few lessons in phenomenal work that can be learned from his films.

The movie starts with the first bit of marketing. The trailer for his 1958 film “Macabre” is a great example — you don’t see a single frame of the film, but you’re told that people who attend the film will have their lives insured by Lloyds of London for $1,000 against death by fright (unless you had a known heart condition or committed suicide during the screening.) His trailer asks you to imagine a movie so scary that you might spontaneously die in the theater, but like most good marketing he’s actually asking you to imagine already having bought a ticket.

Never be afraid to break the fourth wall. In his 1959 film “The Tingler,” a strange monster that lives in your spinal column can emerge and kill you unless you scream really loud at it. In the film, the Tingler escapes the screen, kills the projectionist in your theater, and proceeds to terrorize the audience. Castle developed a gimmick he called “PERCEPTO” — essentially, something similar to those “shocking handshake” buzzers, but installed under some of the seats of the theater and activated by the projectionist once the crowd had started to work themselves up into a frenzy.

Interactivity is mainly an illusion. My favorite Castle gimmick was for his 1961 film "Mr. Sardonicus" — the audience were handed out little cards with a glow-in-the-dark thumb that he called The Punishment Poll. Near the end of the film, the audience had a chance to vote: thumbs up if you want to show Mr. Sardonicus mercy, and thumbs down if you want to see him punished. The audience was picking the ending of the film. Except, Castle says the “mercy” ending was never once shown, as the audience always voted for the punishment. But Castle was having a gag on all of us, as TCM explains: "Although Castle asserts in his book that there was an alternate ending filmed — one where Sardonicus lives — the consensus among horror film scholars is that it wasn’t actually filmed. No different ending has turned up, even in these days of unearthing every scrap of unused material in extra features for DVD releases."

William Castle definitely thought about the phenomena of theatrical experience (one could argue to the deficit of his actual filmmaking) and realized that this kind of showmanship could translate into profits at the box office. He inspired many filmmakers who came after him (including John Water’s Smell-o-Vision gimmick Odorama for the 1981 film "Polyester".)

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For “The Tingler” (1959), William Castle installed buzzers under the seats of audience members and told a story that included the projectionist getting killed and a monster getting loose in the theater. And he did it on a big scale: he estimated he buzzed 20 million asses. Lesson: sometimes you just have to roll up your sleeves and invent something new to enhance the experience.

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‘Attention! The Tingler is loose in this theater. Please scream for your life.’ Naturally, the audience responded by shrieking their lungs out, but this wasn’t good enough for the Master of Gimmicks. He came up with ‘PERCEPTO, the newest and most startling screen gimmick.’ Similar to a handshake buzzer, Percepto was nothing more than little motors installed under theater seats and activated by the projectionist at the exact moment the audience was in a frenzy. As the patrons got their asses buzzed, the theater would erupt in pandemonium. Castle estimated in his autobiography that he buzzed more than 20 million asses.