Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Read and Response: Electric Body Manipulation as Performance Art

In the article about 'Electrical Body Manipulation as Performance Art: A Historical Perspective' by Arthur Elsenaar and Remko Scha is a take on how this form of art developed over time from the technological development of the 18th century to today's complete rewrite of what we believed technology to be and what it can accomplish. Electric performance art is split into three categories: pieces that treat the body merely as a tool of expressing the power behind an electric current, pieces that show the vulnerability of the human body, and finally, they see pieces that view that body as more of a kinematic system that can be controlled by electrical signals instead. The first coining of the phrase 'electricity' was invented by the Greeks when they discovered that amber had the power to attract small particles. It wasn't until the 18th century that electricity could  be used and harnessed  in same way by a man called Stephen Gray announced that he had found the means of 'electrical induction; when he transferred particles from one object to another by placing them close to one another. It wasn't until he demonstrated an experiment when he rubbed a charged glass tube with a piece of velvet, then transferred it to a soap bubble, and finally attracted a piece of silver leaf to it 2 inches away. With this experiment, Gray would go on to experiment on humans, and would become the first instance of 'Electrical Body Manipulation'. This form of body art is the first category mentioned in this paragraph, and took on a form of Christian overtones as people who were subjected to this form of art were reflecting a Judeo-Christian martyrdom and their bodies were merely used for demonstration. Another artist, Georg Matthias Bose, created a  piece called Venus Electrifica aka 'The Electric Kiss', and would charge an attractive female secretly, and when others would touch or kiss her they'd be in for shock. This became the first instance of 'Immediate Art'. Overtime, more and more experiments were done to in understanding how this 'electricity' worked, but more for the scientific part of understanding, and what with Nikola Tesla creating his coils that conduce currents of electricity large enough to be seen by the naked eye versus felt, it was apparent this wasn't going to stop anytime soon. The crucial change in understanding how electricity affected the human body and muscle stimulation technology was made by Guilame Benjamin Duchenne de Boulogne. Ducheene offered that with more control in 'electropuncture' and placing it carefully on certain muscles with the right amount of control you could stimulate certain muscles without affecting the entire structure. This form of electric is still used today by artists such as Stelarc, and Elsenaar themselves who wrote this article. Ducheene's idea continued onward into the 20th century when Stelarc and Elsenaar would hook themselves up to electric currents and be at the whim of an audience. These pieces were more focused on motions and patterns the body can undertake when stimulated as such versus being static and thus moved it from the world of visual art into theater art. Overtime, this form of body art has changed and morphed into today's art form of muscle stimulation as 'electric performance art' and is continually studied in science today, but it changed what could be done with something a small as an electrical charge.

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