Your Body Is Your Medium, Your Body Is Your Art
From neck elongation and corsetry to piercing, tattoos, and body building, human beings have long treated their bodies as a form of art. As technology advances, so does the ability of humans to modify their bodies in increasingly extreme ways. Two international performance artists—Orlan and Stelarc—exemplify just how fluid a canvas the human body can be with plastic surgery, prosthetics, and digital technology.
A French national affiliated with such prestigious international art institutions as the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Dijon, Orlan has undergone at least nine plastic surgeries since the early 1990s as part of a complex and often cryptic commentary on politics and culture.
Over the course of these surgeries, all "performed" live before a global audience, Orlan has created a mosaic of her face that incorporates the facial features of Venus, Diana, Europa, Psyche, and the Mona Lisa as portrayed in classic art.
With only local anesthesia, Orlan remained awake during each surgical procedure while her body was flayed open, manipulated, and transformed. As live-feed satellite video of these operations was transmitted across the globe, Orlan spoke to her viewers, answered questions, and even read poetry.
Through such bold avenues of artistic expression, Orlan effectively praises the freedoms technology affords while denigrating the patriarchal standards of beauty that drive many people toward a more narrow use of this technology.
Similarly, Australian performance artist Sterlac uses his body as a vessel for art. Funded by the Australia Council Visual Arts and Craft Board, Stelarc fuses prosthetics and digital technology with his flesh through plastic surgery and other medical techniques. Most recently, he had a cell-cultivated prosthetic ear implanted beneath the skin of his forearm. His plan is to next implant a microphone inside his "third ear" and transmit the sounds it "hears" via Bluetooth to the Internet.
Stelarc's earlier works include "Stomach Sculpture," in which a finger-sized capsule containing a camera was inserted into his stomach and interior images were transmitted by video monitors to an audience.
In a 2001 interview, Stelarc stated, "One no longer looks at art nor performs art, but contains art."
While the full import of these artists' works remains somewhat elusive, what is made clear is the reality of the body as an artistic medium—not just for the artist, but for all humanity.
And while most people won’t go to the extremes of inserting prosthetic ears into their forearms or making mosaics of their faces, they can be reminded of the fact that their bodies are truly their own. The body remains the most intimate and personal avenue for self-expression, artistic and otherwise.
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