Stelarc at Driving Forces Conference

It was great seeing Stelarc, with his third ear, at the ANU School of Art’s Driving Forces conference. I’ve always greatly admired him of course. But I finally got to ask him about, and discuss with him afterwards, what I have always regarded as the ‘showmanship’ aspect of his practice. To me he’s a showman. I do not use this term pejoratively, and to me it does not diminish the fact that what has fundamentally driven his practice for decades is him putting the materiality his own body at stake in literally embodying his ideas. Nonetheless, for me there is an additional dimension of spectacle, performance and display (even down to his love of alliterative titles) which I still think is ‘showmanship’ in a positive sense. He was generous with me of course, but he didn’t buy it. But I was thinking back to the nineteenth century where, at places like the Royal Polytechnic Institution, or through famous and charismatic figures such as Professor Henry Pepper (who sojourned in Australia for a decade or two), or through the Victorian conversazioni,  various technologically imagined futures were demonstrated through actual experiments conducted as entertainments. It would be great if this historical depth could begin to figure somewhere in Australia’s art/science discourse.

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