For most people, Internet art consists of scanned images of old masters or free-form poetry. For Cyprus-born Australian-based performance artist Stelarc, the Internet provides not only the medium for distribution but also the impetus for the artform itself.
You see, Stelarc wires himself up to an impressive array of hardware, including Linux boxes and PowerMacs, video switchers, audio mixers, and a "stimbox". As the server randomly pings Internet domains from around the world, the strength of the signal (measured in values from 0-2000 milliseconds, indicative of both distance and intensity levels) activates the stimbox to direct an electrical current of up to 60 volts through Stelarc via a web of electrodes connected to his body.
Simultaneously, the signals are converted to audio, resulting in a multimedia extravaganza. Stelarc convulses in response to the electrical stimulation; sound--somewhat related to the movements--bombards the aural senses; and images of the network and video feeds surround his audience. Closing the loop, the whole thing is simulcast over the Internet so that remote surfers can be part of the experience.
All this happened a week ago at Artspace on Auckland's waterfront. Drawing more than 180 people through the door, another 50 or so watching live via the Internet from sites in Christchurch and Dunedin, and untold numbers logging in from around the planet, the Stelarc performance inverted the usual interface between person and the Internet. Instead of the user dictating the computer's movements, the network was controlling the movements of the user.
Can this be a trend? Will we all be dancing to the Internet jig in the future? Was HAL 9000 science fiction or a harbinger of life in the future? Who knows, but it makes a great performance.
According to Matiu Carr, Artspace board member and University of Auckland architecture school IT manager, the programme was running fine until the international link went down. "We rewrote some scripts on the fly to access local sites," Carr explains, "and were quite amazed at the variety of signals that we got over the Net. We literally kept Stelarc jumping."
Check out the Stelarc site at http://stelarc.artspace.org.nz for images and further information.