The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

August 3, 2003,11711,1011495,00.html

An artist has caused outrage by planning to graft a biotech ear on to his

Paul Harris
Sunday August 3, 2003
The Observer

It will shock. But then that's what modern art is all about. In a move that
takes art to unheard of extremes, a British-based artist is to transplant a
human ear on to his arm.

Using techniques of advanced plastic surgery, performance artist Stelarc,
originally called Stelios Arcadiou, is to grow the ear in a biotech
laboratory and have it grafted on to his forearm.

Even in an art world used to the antics of Tracy Emin and Damien Hirst, the
Extra Ear project will cause upset. Many critics of unusual modern art say a
fringe of the movement is caught in an 'arms race' of stunts that have
little artistic merit but plenty of shock value. Last month a French artist
cut off his own finger with an axe and donated it to a museum.

'He [Stelarc] is not exploring anything artistic at all. He's just putting
an ear on his arm. There is an area of modern art where people just think
they can compete to do the most outlandish things. This is not art,' said
David Lee, editor of arts magazine Jackdaw.

Stelarc defended his work as an exploration of how it is possible to change
the human body. His previous works have focused on using machinery and
computers to create extensions of the human form. He has built robotic heads
and hands that he has controlled, and a six-legged walking machine. 'The
issue is not to shock. I want people to see this extra ear and speculate in
a way about alternative interfaces on the body. Some people may be repulsed,
but it is not the intention,' he said.

Stelarc, 57, who is Australian, holds a post at Nottingham Trent University
as a principal research fellow at the Performance Arts Digital Research
Unit. He has put on shows in Europe, Japan and the United States and uses
medical instruments, prosthetics and robotics in his displays. He once
inserted a capsule into his stomach with flashing lights and noises. For his
ear project, Stelarc approached British doctors and medical bodies for help,
but none would take on the operation.

However, the Australian-based Tissue Culture and Art project has agreed to
help him grow the ear. Stelarc hopes to begin the project next month,
growing the ear and having surgeons attach it to his body. A plan to put the
ear on Stelarc's face was abandoned as it could damage nerves in his cheeks.

Samples of Stelarc's cartilage and bone marrow will be taken and grown in a
laboratory. The cartilage will be nurtured into the shape of an ear, similar
to the technique used to grow ears on laboratory mice. The ear will then be
surgically placed under a flap of skin on Stelarc's arm, where it will
develop its own blood supply.

The ear will be sculpted into shape by plastic surgeons who will give it
lobes from skin grafts and shape the flesh on Stelarc's arm. The ear will be
a permanent part of Stelarc's body. 'I will always have something up my
sleeve,' he joked.

Stelarc hopes to fit the ear with a sound chip and a proximity censor so
that it can emit sounds or words when people approach.

Some artists are appalled. 'This is not art; this is sad. The worst thing is
that art students end up following this sort of thing and, if this is a
success, we'll probably eventually get students leaving college with toes
growing out of their foreheads or something equally bizarre,' said Charles
Thomson, founder of the Stuckists group of artists, which campaigns against
many forms of modern art in favour of more traditional painting and drawing.
Founded four years ago by 12 artists who reject the work of Emin and Hirst,
it now has 68 groups around the world.

The British Medical Association warned of dangers in the planned operation.
'Potential problems may be unknown at this stage. The artist needs to
understand this before he gives informed consent to the "operation",' a
spokeswoman said.

One thing all agree on is that the project will get many people talking
about art in a way that paintings and sculptures rarely do. 'It causes
discussion,' said Lee. 'And at the end of the day that is not a bad thing.'

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Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003

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the knife stops before its destination
graphs cannot labor the human
graphisme is a-temporal through the experiential
deathless, time stalls, hacking's digital eternity
"For the talking picture, too, is mute." (Adorno, Eisler.)


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