Suspending belief

Published in Australian Art Collector, Issue 60, April – June 2012

After a hiatus of 24 years, performance artist Stelarc recently attempted another suspension in Melbourne. The performance was witnessed by a small group of art world VIPs at Scott Livesey Galleries. (The gallery closed the event to the public not because of safety concerns but simply because of the room needed for the winching system.)

Stelarc’s suspensions are somewhat legendary in the history of Australian performance art. In the intervening years since his last one he has continued to push boundaries in other directions. A recent project involved having a plastic ear surgically inserted under the skin of his arm.

His performance in March took place over a four metre long sculpture of the Ear on Arm project. Speaking to Australian Art Collector before the event, Stelarc explained the decision to sharpen the hooks once again. “This has occurred through an unexpected coupling of wanting to somehow reanimate and make more relevant these remote images of previous suspensions with a desire to expose the physicality of both the suspensions and the Ear On Arm project. The skin has always been a site for both exposing the body’s obsolescence and engineering its augmentations.”

The suspensions take “careful planning as to the mechanics” but the performance itself is handled more loosely. “It’s about allowing it to happen, with a posture of indifference, rather than expectation. At a certain time the suspension process will begin. And at an indeterminate time it will end.”

As for all the years since his last performance, the 66-year-old artist is unfazed. “They were always physically difficult. And previous suspensions never really prepared you for the next one. The problem will not be so much a problem of ‘all these years,’ but simply of managing another one.”