"We very often use highly sophisticated
technology to bring out the more human elements of the
work that we are doing. So we don't use technology
to be digital, to be more high tech we use it to be more
human and more emotional."
I am interested in the kind of identity computer technology can
give us when it acts like a prosthesis on our bodies. Prosthesis
or not, has to do with the connection between space and body,
how they affect each other and their specific relation to computer
I am interested in performance art
because it is about body, space and identity, using an audience
reacting to a performing event and more or less giving something
in return depending on whether the performance is taking place
on a stage or in the street. There is an interaction between body,
space and audience. To me, the body and the way we use it have
a great impact on our surroundings. A performing body can raise
awareness of what is really going on at the moment, i.e. presence,
for the simple reason that we all have a body to respond with.
So what is performance all about?
"Something is performance when
historical and social context, convention,usage and tradition
say it is. Rituals, play and games, and the roles of everyday
life are performance because convention, context, usage,
and tradition say so."
Performance is about behaviour,
how we behave and act upon others, our environment or things that
we are familiar or unfamiliar with. Performance is everyday life,
it is art and it is cultural. A country has its own cultural performance
that includes attitudes, morals or actions. Schechner means that
performance can be used as an analytical tool to understand a
culture; that it is the critical thinking of a culture. Performing
art often illustrates our lives and attitudes and stimulates critical
thinking. Technology in itself performs its system over time,
culture and context. My crucial interest in performance is the
body, both public and private bodies, and how they relate to each
other, where each begins and ends. The body is something we react
to, using, relating to and acting upon, and behaviour is the extension
of the body and mind. Performance is about identity, how to relate
to it and how to maintain or change it. This is clear in the work
of Stelarc but also runs through the other pieces by Troika Ranch
and Laetitia Sonami.
SELECTED WORKS OF PERFORMANCE
I have chosen to analyse three performances
that involve action, interaction and relation in similar and different
ways depending on how computer technology is used in the pieces.
They all work with technology as a prosthesis/extension to explore
body or space. In my search for works of performance art I did
not find many performers who worked with computer technology in
this way, which made my selection rather easy. The performers
I have chosen have all worked with computer technology for many
years and have had time to really explore technology as a part
of their performances and their works do reflect the human/technology
behaviour. The works I have selected are: Troika Ranch's
"Future of memory", Stelarc's "Ping Body"
and Laetitia Sonami's "Lady's Glove"
Example 1: Troika Ranch's
"Future of memory" performance
Troika Ranch is interested in how
the computer can act as a metaphor for the brain and asks if technology
can change the perception of reality. In the composing process
they pick a word that is important for them at the moment and
investigate it as a starting point for movements. They continue
to improvise, speaking for a long period of time while recording.
One good sentence here and there can be used as a phrase for a
new movement or as a text in the piece.
In Future of Memory (1998), the
dancers create electronic soundscapes that complement live music
performed by a violin, 'cello, and marimba trio. The performers
also use gestures to influence the segments.
Photo: Richard Termine
Two cameras onstage film the performance,
which is projected on screens on stage. The dancers wear the mididancer
system; a wireless movement sensing system that uses sensors to
measure the flexion of up to eight joints on the dancers'
bodies. While they are dancing a microcomputer and radio transmitter
measure and respond to the dancers' movements, allowing
them to manipulate sound, video and light as they perform. While
the dancers are filmed in real-time on screens, their bodies distort
and manipulate the images, sound and light.
The real-time film becomes more
and more blurred the more the dancers move.
The mididancer system is
an extension of the dancer. The system helps their movements to
activate the image, sound and light in the performance. Meanwhile
cameras are recording images of the dancers. That performance
becomes another action going on parallel with the first. It is
the interaction between dancer and technology that creates images,
sound and lighting which the dancer in return responds to. The
relationship is not only between dancers, the mididancer system
and the cameras, but also between the mididancer system, the computer
and radio transmitter. Not to forget the relationship between
dancers' space and audience space which is very well defined
in this case; the relationship between the real event and the
event on the screens. The distorted images become a performance
combining the cameras and dancers' movements.
Example 2 Stelarc's
Stelarc believes that our body is
obsolete and is trying to improve it through technology. He suggests
that, like computers, our physical bodies must be constantly upgraded
to evolve and adapt to the highly technological culture we have
created. Through kinetic body attachments, Internet-body connectivity,
and computer chip-sculpture implants, Stelarc tries to redefine
the nature of the human body and update it to our current level
of technological advancement. He means that the prosthesis augments
or amplifies the form and functions of the body.
In Pingbody (1995) people, at three
places around the world, were able to remotely access and actuate
Stelarc's body, which was in a fourth place. Stelarc was
wearing sensors; electrodes and transducers on his legs, arms
and head, which triggered sampled body signals and sounds as well
as making the body a video switcher and mixer. People using a
touch screen interfaced a muscle stimulation system, while another
system allowed Stelarc to see the person who was moving his body.
When people at the different places used the Internet, it activated
movements of Stelarc's body and composed sounds. Random
pinging to over thirty global Internet domains produced values
from 0 – 2000 milliseconds that were mapped to different
muscles, producing 0 - 60 volt-initiated involuntary movements.
The movements of his body were amplified with a midi-interface
measuring position, bending angle of limbs. Activated by Internet
data, the body is uploaded as information and images to a website
to be viewed by other people elsewhere.
"The body is telematically scaled
up, stimulated and stretched by reverberating signals
from an inflated spatial and electrical system. The usual
relationship with the Internet is flipped – instead
of the Internet being constructed by the input from people;
the Internet constructs the activity of one body. The
body becomes a nexus for Internet activity – its
activity a statistical construction of computer networks."
Stelarc uses technology as a medium
for action that makes the body move without his mind affecting
it. The body that controls Stelarc's muscles becomes a phantom
mind, like phantom pain, which becomes as real as Stelarc's
own mind that usually controls his movements.
Technology interprets what to do
with the body and its behaviour even though another person controls
it. Stelarc's body becomes an extension of the ping system,
which is a prosthesis to the person controlling it. This Stelarc
extension imitates the ping system's prosthesis. The person
using the computer system to activate the ping system, which activates
Stelarc's body, creates the action. It is a complete cycle
of stimulus, interpretation and response. The interaction occurs
between the user, the ping system and Stelarc; through the technology
the user's decisions affect how Stelarc moves his body.
For his part, Stelarc is not responding with his own response.
His existence becomes passive on the users' behalf. The
closest relationship originates between the user and computer
Stelarc wants to take this further
by letting an artificial intelligent avatar control his body.
He calls it a MOVATAR. In that case the relationship would be
The obvious difference is that in
the case of a Movatar the stimulus is not human but technological.
Stelarc's body becomes the prosthesis to the artificial
body, i.e. an inverted prosthesis situation with the body imitating
The distinction between controller
and controlled is blurred. Movement is created by the computer
activating the ping system, which in turn activates Stelarc's
body. This makes the interaction heavily technical, but Stelarc's
body answers it.
The relationship between the computer
technology and the ping system excludes the human element that
is only responding to their exchange. Stelarc's body is
performing according to that communication. The closest relationship
originates between the technology systems. There is also an important
relationship between the memories of Stelarc's muscles,
his technological experience and his changing identity.
Example 3 Laetitia Sonami's
Laetitia Sonami is an electronic/digital
music composer who works using an integral relationship of sound
manipulation to body movement. She uses Lady's Glove to
trigger devices that enable her to move on the stage and set off
events with the wave of her hands using minimal dance-like movements.
She can also use her gloves to synchronize the flashing of all
the light bulbs onstage. She was wearing a pair of rubber kitchen
gloves with five Hall-effect transducers glued to the tip of the
fingers and a magnet on the right hand. By touching the magnet
with her fingers signals were generated and fed to a Forth board,
which converted them to MIDI signals. These signals were then
fed to various synthesizers and samplers.
Following that was an arm-length
left glove with these same sensors, the magnet on the inside of
the thumb, and a set of micro switches on the tip of the fingers.
The next glove, made of golden Lycra, had resistant strips taken
from an early gaming glove sewn along the fingers and wrist. These
were taped at the centre and generated two streams of data each
when bent. A pressure pad was sewn on the inside of the index
finger and an ultrasonic transmitter was sewn on the inside palm,
with one receiver located on the right arm and one on the left
foot: these calculate the distance between both hands and the
height of the left hand. In total, all these signals were fed
into STEIM's Sensor lab.
The glove is a prosthesis that accesses
the performer's incapacity to make music with her hands.
Technology transforms the movements/signals to music and the glove
becomes a musical instrument. The difference between this prosthesis
and a musical instrument is that the glove is even closer to the
body and its movements than a musical instrument.
The movements activate the Lady's
Glove, which creates the music. The activity takes place between
the body and the glove, and between the glove and the music. The
interaction is between all three of them, the body interacting
with technology that affects the music that interacts with the
body making it move differently to create new music. This creates
a feedback loop.
There is a strong relationship between
the three parts, the glove becomes like a musical instrument played
by the performer. Like a musical instrument the glove is a prosthesis
on the body of the performer translating movements into music.
The difference is that the glove/ body can move more freely in
space than a guitar or a trumpet for example; the extension prolongs
itself through the body movements.
"The importance of technology
is not simply in the pure power it generates but in the
realm of abstraction it produces through its operational
speed and its development of extended sense systems."
Computer technology is not neutral,
but always designed. It performs an interpretation of the human
It represents responses to actions,
an interaction with a person. It can also be the relationship
between a stimulus and its response, i.e the interpretation or
evaluation of the stimulus that bears the illusion of human behaviour.
Computer technology is a process and an aspect of embodiment.
Technology in general
Like space, technology is an element
of social activities. Western standards are set by technology
and technology is also a criterion for economical development.
Technology is urban and becomes a counter pole to the rural element;
technology is a referent and a centre in an economic/social/political
and cultural exchange.
Technology brings together the flow
of economics, information, power, transportation, surveillance,
sexuality and the personal relations not only between people,
but even places. Technology reflects the body and is a product
of the body. It becomes an extension of the body and the body
will, in turn, reflect technology.
Technology - Body
Technology develops from the needs
and shape of our mind and body. Technology is a production of
the body, but if it is used in reverse fashion, the body becomes
its production. In extreme cases, technology is used to change
our bodies and minds. One example is when Stelarc lets electricity
move his arms and legs; he changes the memories of his muscles
and this in return affects his mind. Our muscles "remember"
the experiences we have had. These memories are central to our
identity, who we are and who we might become. We rely on our memories
to validate our experiences. If we have memories we must have
had the experiences they represent. Technology becomes something
that affects the body or takes over its functions and memories
and, in the process, the boundaries between body and technology
Troika Ranch wants computer technology
to become more emotional, to come closer to the body's consciousness
and actions. Technology imitates the body and the two come to
exist parallel in space. This changes the way we look at our bodies,
about bodily functions and especially their symbolism. What does
the body mean these days, when it is more or less permeated by
the technology we surround ourselves with?
Technology is a process, organising
and connecting bodies to each other, exploiting the body's
boundaries and its functions. We need to be aware of our own relation
to technology, our attitude towards the role of technology, and
then it becomes possible to change or maintain our position.
EXTENSION VS PROSTHESIS
Sandy Stone means2)
that we have a very primitive understanding of the prosthesis
because we always mean the technical extension, primarily because
we do not understand the genetics of the body like the phantom
pain phenomenon.3) To Stone
prosthesis and extension have more or less the same meaning. She
wants to evolve the meaning of the prosthesis and means that anything
can extend our sense of humanity: language, social network, our
ability to move things around, or to think; a prosthesis can be
the tool that we use for building things. She works with installations
which allow people to experience their senses in a dark aisle
where suddenly visions appear in the corner of the visitor's
eye. It is impossible to really catch what is moving so even if
the person turns his head the visions will just appear in the
periphery of sight. What happens in the mind, how will it extend
the sense of seeing and what emotions will it evoke?
does not use the word prosthesis but sees computer technology
as an extension of the performance and the performers' potential
in the same way a musical instrument is an extension. The trumpet
becomes an extension of the lips; the movements of the body and
lips are translated into sound. When playing piano, gestures are
translated into sound. The trumpet and the piano are an extension
and a part of the body. That is how Troika Ranch sees the computer
technology as an extension to the dancers' bodies; their
movements are translated into technology. By using computer technology
their way of thinking of performing and perception have changed,
because in traditional dance someone plays the music and the dancers
follow the music, but in the technological pieces the dancers
create the music, the visual effects and the movement at the same
time, by themselves, like in the work, "The Future of the
Memory." The dancers receive an extended perception of what
is happening to them. This corresponds with Stone's thoughts.
Stone is interested in using technology to construct a space where
a human prosthesis, like a thought or an emotion, can emerge,
i.e. not in creating the prosthesis itself as an artefact. She
prefers to say that visions and sound are prostheses because their
purpose is to bring people out of themselves. We try to understand
how our brains perceive their own extensions in order to understand
how humans comprehend a prosthesis just as when we, when left
in an under-stimulated environment, think of ourselves as extending
Stone wants to create space where
people can make their own prosthesis. This because it is ultimately
how a person interacts with the object that determines to what
degree, and what kind of prosthesis it is. This is different for
every person. Stone means it depends on how that person conceives
herself in the prosthesis. She goes even further and means that
space can be a prosthesis. We can construct spaces in order to
become extensions of ourselves, a space that works best for us.
Spaces like architecture that tries to draw us up or into it act
as prostheses, just as a church can be an extension of our belief
A prosthesis is connected to the
body extending the absence of the missing part. It imitates the
body to become a part of it. As mentioned previously, a person
can feel phantom pain in her artificial limb. This is an accessory
that helps us to become aware of the extension it creates; the
way it prolongs itself to become more than a prosthetic accessory.
A living prosthesis to the highest
possible degree is the fetus in the womb and an extension both
within the female body as well as outside as a baby. That extension
is not about absence, but intimacy. Not only the body, but even
the mind of the mother, is a part of the extension. This example
can show how a prosthesis is connected with physical intimacy
of a person's own body even if it is an artificial limb,
i.e. an awareness of the transformation of prosthesis into a physical
Computer technology allows access
to extending a certain function of the body or mind or acts as
the extension of a prosthetic object. By using Troika Ranch's
mididancer system you can extend your movements to affect images.
Using Lady's Glove to make music is an extension of the
prosthesis. Common to both extension and prosthesis is that they
reinforce senses, emotions or movements to make them stronger,
elaborated or even something different, but they do not behave
in the same way.
I see an extension as an abstraction
of a prosthesis emerging from a consciousness. Lady's Glove
is the prosthesis extending through movements and creating sound,
i.e. the merged prosthesis/extension. Otherwise, a prosthesis
like an artificial limb extends the function of the real arm,
but does not create further extension if it is not possible to
carry heavy things, then it becomes only a prosthesis. This means
that the prosthesis and extension have to penetrate our consciousness
and be assimilated in order to work at the mental level, i.e.
the extension of oneself.
"The prosthesis is seen not as
a sign of a lacking, but as a symptom of excess"
This quotation very well describes
prosthesis when it becomes active, when the boundary between absence
and intimacy no longer exists and the prosthesis is more a process
of recognition and less of separation.
When examining the work of Troika
Ranch, Stelarc and Laetitia Sonami, their purpose in using technology
is different as to how they want computer technology to act. Troika
Ranch wants technology to be more luscious and human, to integrate
it into the body and make it disappear into it. They use technology
to find intimacy with a body while at the same time they extend
Stelarc wants to eliminate the skin,
modify and mutate the body and make it fully interactive. Through
his work he thinks he is redefining what is human, and technology
becomes a component of the body. He receives prosthetic memories5),
meaning implemented memories that are not experienced by him.
Laetitia Sonami uses computer technology to create an extended
musical instrument as a prosthesis using her movements extending
through the glove, which is an extension of her body, to create
music. They all use technical performances to show what is happening
between action and relationships, through interaction with computer
technology. Their performances demonstrate the behaviour of body
and technology. There is a ritualisation of technology as change
and transformation; they all present technology as an important
part of our daily life in their performances.
Meanwhile computer technology constitutes
differences; it breaks apart, showing the differences between
body, technology and space. This fragmentation produces disorder
that is necessary to emphasise technology as a tool for understanding
our bodies, space and identities. Computer technology places our
identity in the light of a context of a society where identity
is a process and an active part of our lives probably more than
ever. Technology moves the centre and periphery around, both the
physical as well as spatial. Computer technology also moves its
own context depending on whether it is used in a conceived, perceived
or in a living space 6).
Computer technology deconstructs
the relationship between body and space, or rather causes conventions
about body and space to be put in another perspective, the identity.
Computer technology has contributed to a radically different way
of looking at, interpreting, and acting to change the embracing
spatiality of human life, i.e. computer technology is an active
participant in our identities. As Foucault says: "The body
is a site of uncoordinated possibilities until it is trained,
administered and taught how to be a body. Body is identity and
is marked through history and society." Donna Haraway responds:
"So why should our bodies end at the skin, or include at
best other beings encapsulated by skin?"
The question is, will there be an
individual choice about how technology affects our identities
in the future or will culture train our identities and bodies
to be a prosthesis to technology?