Google the artist Stelarc and you’ll see immediately why he might be placed at the extreme end of the so-called BioArt movement, in which art is created by the manipulation of living tissues, organisms and life itself. Here he is, a short balding man—with an extra ear. On his arm. It’s not some kind of trick photography, neither is it an elaborate latex special effect. The ear is made of living tissue (cartilage), and it was surgically grafted to his arm in 2007.
It’s easy to dismiss this as a cheap shock tactic. At the time, Stelarc’s third ear was declared “offensive” by someone who had begun plastic surgery to construct an ear that she was born without. “It [the BioArtwork] could cause some people distress,” one surgeon was quoted as saying.
It’s a shame no one at that time spoke to Stelarc himself. Once you get over his rather disconcerting laugh (frequently deployed), you find he is not some shallow, shock-mongering self-publicist from the cynical side of the contemporary art scene. He is a modest, genial and eloquent man who is deeply interested in mankind’s relationship with our bodies and with the limitations of the human physique. He points out that technology is already generating “alternative anatomical constructs” thanks to tissue engineering and transplantation. His interest, he says, is in “post-evolutionary strategies for the body”—new ways of remaking ourselves.