Technology as if


Annika Olofsdotter Bergström


"We very often use highly sophisticated technology to bring out the more human elements of the work that we are doing. So we don't use technology to be digital, to be more high tech we use it to be more human and more emotional."

Troika Ranch

I am interested in the kind of identity computer technology can give us when it acts like a prosthesis on our bodies. Prosthesis or not, has to do with the connection between space and body, how they affect each other and their specific relation to computer technology.

I am interested in performance art because it is about body, space and identity, using an audience that is reacting to a performing event and more or less giving something in return depending on whether the performance is taking place on a stage or in the street. There is an interaction between body, space and audience. To me, the body and the way we use it have a great impact on our surroundings. A performing body can raise awareness of what is really going on at the moment, i.e. presence, for the simple reason that we all have a body to respond with.

So what is performance all about?

"Something is performance when historical and social context, convention,usage and tradition say it is. Rituals, play and games, and the roles of everyday life are performance because convention, context, usage, and tradition say so."

Richard Schechner

Performance is about behaviour, how we behave and act upon others, our environment or things that we are familiar or unfamiliar with. Performance is everyday life, it is art and it is cultural. A country has its own cultural performance that includes attitudes, morals or actions. Schechner means that performance can be used as an analytical tool to understand a culture; that it is the critical thinking of a culture. Performing art often illustrates our lives and attitudes and stimulates critical thinking. Technology in itself performs its system over time, culture and context. My crucial interest in performance is the body, both public and private bodies, and how they relate to each other, where each begins and ends. The body is something we react to, using, relating to and acting upon, and behaviour is the extension of the body and mind. Performance is about identity, how to relate to it and how to maintain or change it. This is clear in the work of Stelarc but also runs through the other pieces by Troika Ranch and Laetitia Sonami.


I have chosen to analyse three performances that involve action, interaction and relation in similar and different ways depending on how computer technology is used in the pieces. They all work with technology as a prosthesis/extension to explore body or space. In my search for works of performance art I did not find many performers who worked with computer technology in this way, which made my selection rather easy. The performers I have chosen have all worked with computer technology for many years and have had time to really explore technology as a part of their performances and their works do reflect the human/technology behaviour. The works I have selected are: Troika Ranch's "Future of memory", Stelarc's "Ping Body" and Laetitia Sonami's "Lady's Glove"

Example 1: Troika Ranch's "Future of memory" performance

Troika Ranch is interested in how the computer can act as a metaphor for the brain and asks if technology can change the perception of reality. In the composing process they pick a word that is important for them at the moment and investigate it as a starting point for movements. They continue to improvise, speaking for a long period of time while recording. One good sentence here and there can be used as a phrase for a new movement or as a text in the piece.

In Future of Memory (1998), the dancers create electronic soundscapes that complement live music performed by a violin, 'cello, and marimba trio. The performers also use gestures to influence the segments.

Photo: Richard Termine

Two cameras onstage film the performance, which is projected on screens on stage. The dancers wear the mididancer system; a wireless movement sensing system that uses sensors to measure the flexion of up to eight joints on the dancers' bodies. While they are dancing a microcomputer and radio transmitter measure and respond to the dancers' movements, allowing them to manipulate sound, video and light as they perform. While the dancers are filmed in real-time on screens, their bodies distort and manipulate the images, sound and light.

The real-time film becomes more and more blurred the more the dancers move.

The mididancer system is an extension of the dancer. The system helps their movements to activate the image, sound and light in the performance. Meanwhile cameras are recording images of the dancers. That performance becomes another action going on parallel with the first. It is the interaction between dancer and technology that creates images, sound and lighting which the dancer in return responds to. The relationship is not only between dancers, the mididancer system and the cameras, but also between the mididancer system, the computer and radio transmitter. Not to forget the relationship between dancers' space and audience space which is very well defined in this case; the relationship between the real event and the event on the screens. The distorted images become a performance combining the cameras and dancers' movements.

Example 2 Stelarc's "Pingbody" piece

Stelarc believes that our body is obsolete and is trying to improve it through technology. He suggests that, like computers, our physical bodies must be constantly upgraded to evolve and adapt to the highly technological culture we have created. Through kinetic body attachments, Internet-body connectivity, and computer chip-sculpture implants, Stelarc tries to redefine the nature of the human body and update it to our current level of technological advancement. He means that the prosthesis augments or amplifies the form and functions of the body.

In Pingbody (1995) people, at three places around the world, were able to remotely access and actuate Stelarc's body, which was in a fourth place. Stelarc was wearing sensors; electrodes and transducers on his legs, arms and head, which triggered sampled body signals and sounds as well as making the body a video switcher and mixer. People using a touch screen interfaced a muscle stimulation system, while another system allowed Stelarc to see the person who was moving his body. When people at the different places used the Internet, it activated movements of Stelarc's body and composed sounds. Random pinging to over thirty global Internet domains produced values from 0 – 2000 milliseconds that were mapped to different muscles, producing 0 - 60 volt-initiated involuntary movements. The movements of his body were amplified with a midi-interface measuring position, bending angle of limbs. Activated by Internet data, the body is uploaded as information and images to a website to be viewed by other people elsewhere.

"The body is telematically scaled up, stimulated and stretched by reverberating signals from an inflated spatial and electrical system. The usual relationship with the Internet is flipped – instead of the Internet being constructed by the input from people; the Internet constructs the activity of one body. The body becomes a nexus for Internet activity – its activity a statistical construction of computer networks."


Stelarc uses technology as a medium for action that makes the body move without his mind affecting it. The body that controls Stelarc's muscles becomes a phantom mind, like phantom pain, which becomes as real as Stelarc's own mind that usually controls his movements.

Technology interprets what to do with the body and its behaviour even though another person controls it. Stelarc's body becomes an extension of the ping system, which is a prosthesis to the person controlling it. This Stelarc extension imitates the ping system's prosthesis. The person using the computer system to activate the ping system, which activates Stelarc's body, creates the action. It is a complete cycle of stimulus, interpretation and response. The interaction occurs between the user, the ping system and Stelarc; through the technology the user's decisions affect how Stelarc moves his body. For his part, Stelarc is not responding with his own response. His existence becomes passive on the users' behalf. The closest relationship originates between the user and computer technology.


Stelarc wants to take this further by letting an artificial intelligent avatar control his body. He calls it a MOVATAR. In that case the relationship would be like this:


The obvious difference is that in the case of a Movatar the stimulus is not human but technological. Stelarc's body becomes the prosthesis to the artificial body, i.e. an inverted prosthesis situation with the body imitating technology.

The distinction between controller and controlled is blurred. Movement is created by the computer activating the ping system, which in turn activates Stelarc's body. This makes the interaction heavily technical, but Stelarc's body answers it.

The relationship between the computer technology and the ping system excludes the human element that is only responding to their exchange. Stelarc's body is performing according to that communication. The closest relationship originates between the technology systems. There is also an important relationship between the memories of Stelarc's muscles, his technological experience and his changing identity.

Example 3 Laetitia Sonami's "Lady's Glove"

Laetitia Sonami is an electronic/digital music composer who works using an integral relationship of sound manipulation to body movement. She uses Lady's Glove to trigger devices that enable her to move on the stage and set off events with the wave of her hands using minimal dance-like movements. She can also use her gloves to synchronize the flashing of all the light bulbs onstage. She was wearing a pair of rubber kitchen gloves with five Hall-effect transducers glued to the tip of the fingers and a magnet on the right hand. By touching the magnet with her fingers signals were generated and fed to a Forth board, which converted them to MIDI signals. These signals were then fed to various synthesizers and samplers.

Following that was an arm-length left glove with these same sensors, the magnet on the inside of the thumb, and a set of micro switches on the tip of the fingers. The next glove, made of golden Lycra, had resistant strips taken from an early gaming glove sewn along the fingers and wrist. These were taped at the centre and generated two streams of data each when bent. A pressure pad was sewn on the inside of the index finger and an ultrasonic transmitter was sewn on the inside palm, with one receiver located on the right arm and one on the left foot: these calculate the distance between both hands and the height of the left hand. In total, all these signals were fed into STEIM's Sensor lab.

The glove is a prosthesis that accesses the performer's incapacity to make music with her hands. Technology transforms the movements/signals to music and the glove becomes a musical instrument. The difference between this prosthesis and a musical instrument is that the glove is even closer to the body and its movements than a musical instrument.


The movements activate the Lady's Glove, which creates the music. The activity takes place between the body and the glove, and between the glove and the music. The interaction is between all three of them, the body interacting with technology that affects the music that interacts with the body making it move differently to create new music. This creates a feedback loop.

There is a strong relationship between the three parts, the glove becomes like a musical instrument played by the performer. Like a musical instrument the glove is a prosthesis on the body of the performer translating movements into music. The difference is that the glove/ body can move more freely in space than a guitar or a trumpet for example; the extension prolongs itself through the body movements.


"The importance of technology is not simply in the pure power it generates but in the realm of abstraction it produces through its operational speed and its development of extended sense systems."



Computer technology is not neutral, but always designed. It performs an interpretation of the human rationale. 1)

It represents responses to actions, an interaction with a person. It can also be the relationship between a stimulus and its response, i.e the interpretation or evaluation of the stimulus that bears the illusion of human behaviour. Computer technology is a process and an aspect of embodiment.

Technology in general

Like space, technology is an element of social activities. Western standards are set by technology and technology is also a criterion for economical development. Technology is urban and becomes a counter pole to the rural element; technology is a referent and a centre in an economic/social/political and cultural exchange.

Technology brings together the flow of economics, information, power, transportation, surveillance, sexuality and the personal relations not only between people, but even places. Technology reflects the body and is a product of the body. It becomes an extension of the body and the body will, in turn, reflect technology.

Technology - Body

Technology develops from the needs and shape of our mind and body. Technology is a production of the body, but if it is used in reverse fashion, the body becomes its production. In extreme cases, technology is used to change our bodies and minds. One example is when Stelarc lets electricity move his arms and legs; he changes the memories of his muscles and this in return affects his mind. Our muscles "remember" the experiences we have had. These memories are central to our identity, who we are and who we might become. We rely on our memories to validate our experiences. If we have memories we must have had the experiences they represent. Technology becomes something that affects the body or takes over its functions and memories and, in the process, the boundaries between body and technology are dissolving.

Troika Ranch wants computer technology to become more emotional, to come closer to the body's consciousness and actions. Technology imitates the body and the two come to exist parallel in space. This changes the way we look at our bodies, about bodily functions and especially their symbolism. What does the body mean these days, when it is more or less permeated by the technology we surround ourselves with?

Technology is a process, organising and connecting bodies to each other, exploiting the body's boundaries and its functions. We need to be aware of our own relation to technology, our attitude towards the role of technology, and then it becomes possible to change or maintain our position.


Sandy Stone means2) that we have a very primitive understanding of the prosthesis because we always mean the technical extension, primarily because we do not understand the genetics of the body like the phantom pain phenomenon.3) To Stone prosthesis and extension have more or less the same meaning. She wants to evolve the meaning of the prosthesis and means that anything can extend our sense of humanity: language, social network, our ability to move things around, or to think; a prosthesis can be the tool that we use for building things. She works with installations which allow people to experience their senses in a dark aisle where suddenly visions appear in the corner of the visitor's eye. It is impossible to really catch what is moving so even if the person turns his head the visions will just appear in the periphery of sight. What happens in the mind, how will it extend the sense of seeing and what emotions will it evoke?

Troika Ranch4) does not use the word prosthesis but sees computer technology as an extension of the performance and the performers' potential in the same way a musical instrument is an extension. The trumpet becomes an extension of the lips; the movements of the body and lips are translated into sound. When playing piano, gestures are translated into sound. The trumpet and the piano are an extension and a part of the body. That is how Troika Ranch sees the computer technology as an extension to the dancers' bodies; their movements are translated into technology. By using computer technology their way of thinking of performing and perception have changed, because in traditional dance someone plays the music and the dancers follow the music, but in the technological pieces the dancers create the music, the visual effects and the movement at the same time, by themselves, like in the work, "The Future of the Memory." The dancers receive an extended perception of what is happening to them. This corresponds with Stone's thoughts. Stone is interested in using technology to construct a space where a human prosthesis, like a thought or an emotion, can emerge, i.e. not in creating the prosthesis itself as an artefact. She prefers to say that visions and sound are prostheses because their purpose is to bring people out of themselves. We try to understand how our brains perceive their own extensions in order to understand how humans comprehend a prosthesis just as when we, when left in an under-stimulated environment, think of ourselves as extending into space.

Stone wants to create space where people can make their own prosthesis. This because it is ultimately how a person interacts with the object that determines to what degree, and what kind of prosthesis it is. This is different for every person. Stone means it depends on how that person conceives herself in the prosthesis. She goes even further and means that space can be a prosthesis. We can construct spaces in order to become extensions of ourselves, a space that works best for us. Spaces like architecture that tries to draw us up or into it act as prostheses, just as a church can be an extension of our belief and ourselves.

A prosthesis is connected to the body extending the absence of the missing part. It imitates the body to become a part of it. As mentioned previously, a person can feel phantom pain in her artificial limb. This is an accessory that helps us to become aware of the extension it creates; the way it prolongs itself to become more than a prosthetic accessory.

A living prosthesis to the highest possible degree is the fetus in the womb and an extension both within the female body as well as outside as a baby. That extension is not about absence, but intimacy. Not only the body, but even the mind of the mother, is a part of the extension. This example can show how a prosthesis is connected with physical intimacy of a person's own body even if it is an artificial limb, i.e. an awareness of the transformation of prosthesis into a physical extension.

Computer technology allows access to extending a certain function of the body or mind or acts as the extension of a prosthetic object. By using Troika Ranch's mididancer system you can extend your movements to affect images. Using Lady's Glove to make music is an extension of the prosthesis. Common to both extension and prosthesis is that they reinforce senses, emotions or movements to make them stronger, elaborated or even something different, but they do not behave in the same way.

I see an extension as an abstraction of a prosthesis emerging from a consciousness. Lady's Glove is the prosthesis extending through movements and creating sound, i.e. the merged prosthesis/extension. Otherwise, a prosthesis like an artificial limb extends the function of the real arm, but does not create further extension if it is not possible to carry heavy things, then it becomes only a prosthesis. This means that the prosthesis and extension have to penetrate our consciousness and be assimilated in order to work at the mental level, i.e. the extension of oneself.

"The prosthesis is seen not as a sign of a lacking, but as a symptom of excess"



This quotation very well describes prosthesis when it becomes active, when the boundary between absence and intimacy no longer exists and the prosthesis is more a process of recognition and less of separation.

When examining the work of Troika Ranch, Stelarc and Laetitia Sonami, their purpose in using technology is different as to how they want computer technology to act. Troika Ranch wants technology to be more luscious and human, to integrate it into the body and make it disappear into it. They use technology to find intimacy with a body while at the same time they extend senses.

Stelarc wants to eliminate the skin, modify and mutate the body and make it fully interactive. Through his work he thinks he is redefining what is human, and technology becomes a component of the body. He receives prosthetic memories5), meaning implemented memories that are not experienced by him. Laetitia Sonami uses computer technology to create an extended musical instrument as a prosthesis using her movements extending through the glove, which is an extension of her body, to create music. They all use technical performances to show what is happening between action and relationships, through interaction with computer technology. Their performances demonstrate the behaviour of body and technology. There is a ritualisation of technology as change and transformation; they all present technology as an important part of our daily life in their performances.

Meanwhile computer technology constitutes differences; it breaks apart, showing the differences between body, technology and space. This fragmentation produces disorder that is necessary to emphasise technology as a tool for understanding our bodies, space and identities. Computer technology places our identity in the light of a context of a society where identity is a process and an active part of our lives probably more than ever. Technology moves the centre and periphery around, both the physical as well as spatial. Computer technology also moves its own context depending on whether it is used in a conceived, perceived or in a living space 6).

Computer technology deconstructs the relationship between body and space, or rather causes conventions about body and space to be put in another perspective, the identity. Computer technology has contributed to a radically different way of looking at, interpreting, and acting to change the embracing spatiality of human life, i.e. computer technology is an active participant in our identities. As Foucault says: "The body is a site of uncoordinated possibilities until it is trained, administered and taught how to be a body. Body is identity and is marked through history and society." Donna Haraway responds: "So why should our bodies end at the skin, or include at best other beings encapsulated by skin?"

The question is, will there be an individual choice about how technology affects our identities in the future or will culture train our identities and bodies to be a prosthesis to technology?



1) see Definition of Tekhnê
2) Interview 14/4 2004
3) Occurs in people who have had appendages amputated. Frequently these people perceive pain, which can be intense, in the amputated structure as if it were still in place. There are different theories as to why this occurs but one is that the brain retains an image of the amputated body part and creates an impression that the part is still there, Anatomy and physiology 4th edition Seeley, Stephens, Tate 1998
4) Interview 22/4 2004
5) Alison Landsberg, Cybercultures reader, pg 190
6) See H. Lefebvre


Annika Olofsdotter Bergström is a technology bohemian, which means a non programming technology freak who will start her Lic Research at Luleå Technology University. She is going to make experimental games to reach the female target group. Parallell she works with the SuperMarit project to get more females into the gamedeveloping. This article is an extract from her Bachelor thesis at the Institution for Engineering, Art and New Media, University of Gotland/Sweden 2004.











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