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Stelarc «Ping Body»
Stelarc, «Ping Body», 1996
Screenshot | © Stelarc

«Ping Body»

t the November 1995 Telepolis 'Fractal Flesh' event, Paris (the Pompidou Centre), Helsinki (The Media Lab) and Amsterdam (for the Doors of Perception Conference) were electronically linked through a performance website allowing the audience to remotely access, view and actuate Stelarc's body via a computer-interfaced muscle-stimulation system based at the main performance site in Luxembourg.

Although the body's movements were involuntary, it could respond by activating its robotic Third Hand and also trigger the upload of images to a website so that the performance could be monitored live on the Net. Web server statistics indicated the live event was watched worldwide.

During the Ping Body performances, what is being considered is a body moving not to the promptings of another body in another place, but rather to Internet activity itself - the body's proprioception and musculature stimulated not by its internal nervous system but by the external ebb and flow of data.

By random pinging (or measuring the echo times) to Internet domains it is possible to map spatial distance and transmission time to body motion. Ping values from 0-2000 milliseconds (indicative of both distance and density levels of Internet activity) are used to activate a multiple muscle stimulator directing 0-60 volts to the body. Thus ping values that indicate spatial and time parameters of the Internet choreograph and compose the performances. A graphical interface of limb motions simulates and initiates the physical body's movements. This, in turn, generates sounds mapped to proximity, positioning and bending of the arms and legs.

The Ping Body performances produce a powerful inversion of the usual interface of the body to the Net. Instead of collective bodies determining the operation of the Internet, collective Internet activity moves the body. The Internet becomes not merely a mode of information transmission, but also a transducer, effecting physical action.

The performance was carried out with the assistance of Gary Zebington (programming and graphics), Rainer Linz (sound design), Dmitri Aronov (Unix ping software), Mic Gruchy (video) and the Merlin crew in general. The artist has also consulted Adam Burns (Pegasus), Andrew Garton (Toy Satellite) and Andrew Pam (State Film Centre).