~e; Electric Body Manipulation

From human being <human@electronetwork.org>
Date Thu, 1 May 2003 23:30:28 -0500

[I was fortunate to have an article photocopied and sent to me by
a listmember (for EM research purposes) that is in the most recent
Leonardo Music Journal magazine. The article is excellent, it is an
overview that really surprised me in a specific way which I will try
to explain in a brief way...]

Electric Body Manipulation as Performance Art:
A Historical Perspective
Arthur Elsenaar and Remko Scha

[Authors from Institute for Artificial Art Amsterdam http://iaaa.nl/
"The Institute of Artificial Art is an independent organisation
consisting of machines, computers, algorithms and human persons,
who work together toward the complete automatization of art 

The article abstract is as follows: ":The authors trace the history of
electric performance art. They begin with the roots of this art form in
the 18th-century experiments with "animal electricity" and "artificial
electricity," which were often performed as public demonstrations in
royal courts and anatomical theaters. Next, the authors sketch the
development of increasingly powerful techniques for the generation
of electric current and their applications in destructive body 
culminating in the electric chair. Finally, they discuss the 
development of
electric muscle-control technology, from its 18th-century beginnings
through Duchenne de Boulogne's photo sessions to the current work
of Stelarc and Arthur Elsenaar."


A few comments about the article: having read a small selection of
histories of electricity, it is very interesting to see these 
from another lens, in that it would take a performance artist to share
the relation between early EM demonstrations and its relation to the
performance art of today, and to do so with a scholarly understanding.
This is what the article and the authors achieve, and it helps for one
who may have trouble with various aspects of this experimentation
with the body, to better grasp its relevance and importance yesterday
and today. For instance, it was realized that people who may now be
paralyzed may some-day, through advanced of using MIDI controllers
and the understanding of facial nerve expressions, may be able to
help persons who are now trapped in immobile bodies, for lack of
these same types of control mechanisms, that have an aspect that
is not grotesque in its aims, but can be an applied knowledge system,
unique to arts exploration of electromagnetic phenomena. That is the
concluding thought from this overview of electric body manipulation,
and the 'moral of the story' as presented by the authors.

What was of great interest is the tying together of various attributes,
such as how social networks would interact with the EM inventors and
experimenters as a performance event, where body hanging by silk
threads for electrical experiments is not only related to its precedent
from what I've seen in catalogues of tribal culture, hanging the body
from hooks, but also in today's (disturbing to some) similar works, in
testing an almost threshold condition, not only of the body but minds.
To realize the wonderful experiments with ions and halos and animal
electromagnetism bring many realms into play between the areas of
social interaction. To date, previously the example that Napoleon had
seen an electrical machine (on a boat, I think) starts to intertwine the
high-tech present with centuries old histories that never account for
these events in popular histories and anecdotes, yet they were there
and part of the record, yet are divided out and the EM story is nowhere
told as a whole empirical event, it is split into parts, here art, here 
type of art, here architecture, here physics, here mathematics, here
electronics, here education, here media studies, here computing, etc.

It is for this reason that the efforts of individual researchers becomes
so important to make individual segments of the larger whole in each
of the various disciplines as they are defined today, or links between
them, and to network these to find the larger story that includes the
missing parts of the others, and opens up new interpretations. There
is so much material about the effects, very little about the EM cause.
and, it is likely a handful of people in each industry at present who 
doing scholarship, and for this reason it is of greatest importance to
bring these texts and people and interests into a common realm of
inquiry and sharing of information and research and ideas. The most
recent conference on Electra and Magnete was the first and only EM
art symposium that demonstrated a depth of awareness of the topics
being explored, that is, the complexity was not ignored, but it is very
few who are doing work in relation to electromagnetism and also who
are actively studying it for its meaning as has been its long historical
precedence, if ever there was a hobbyist's exploration, it has been 
as it can be accessed from just about any angle one approaches it from.

For this reason, for those interested in art, or who have no idea what
Electric Body Manipulation is, it is worthwhile to read this well 
and informative text if it at all possible. As it helps reveal ways of 
electromagnetism through the eyes of a performance artist, but also
offers a way of understanding how the electrical demonstrations so
readily portrayed in histories, such as the electrocution of animals in
the AC/DC wars and their lead-up to the electric chair and executions,
was predated by a type of culture. There is also well reasoned 
analysis of various approaches to this subject, which is also 
for those who are reasoning their works and ideas in relation to issues
explored in the text.

In sum, it is proposed that there are many people experimenting in
various ways, some with great rigor and in a long tradition of which
they see themselves a part of. And to bring these people in contact
with others of other disciplines, and also to persons developing their
ideas in relation to EM, to help create resources for scholarship and
new interpretations (usually, the only interpretations of a field in 
of electricity/magnetism/electromagnetism) then more and more people
can begin to learn, and build their knowledge and the context for works
in computing and other technologies, which are layered on top of deep
stories and developments, that one can trace back to the earliest spark.

I tried to contact Leonardo for republication rights, and there are 
right issues, and I will try to contact the authors, yet there are also 
artists dong similar work, too, and any such works are welcomed here
for sharing of ideas and scholarship. For instance, there is the 
of neurology in economics, artificial intelligence in military science, 
use of electrons for money exchanges, the rise of electronic mass media
in relation to government, e-democracy and e-government initiatives,
the history of computing, telecommunications, electrical engineering,
the role of new technologies in various disciplines (such as GIS/CAD/
GPS in archaeology, architecture, geology, exploration, mining, and
environmental science+), on and on. Some day it is hoped that these
various perspectives will have an infrastructure from which to present
an overview of electromagnetism across the spectrum of human ideas
and civilization, including differences in various parts and 
and that this is the inclusiveness of EM art, science, and technology as
it is in this article, that it is not separated out, and taken by 
itself as a
closed-topic, limited, and without the ability to use the data 
to build upon, as people have done in the past, and into common futures.

  the electromagnetic internetwork-list
  electromagnetism / infrastructure / civilization