ARTINFO: Body Mod as Art (PHOTOS)

11/26/2010 08:33 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

NEW YORK-- Ah, "body modification" art -- that sub-sub-genre of performance art that features artists disfiguring, warping, implanting devices into, or otherwise transfiguring their flesh, in more or less permanent ways. What could be a more perfect genre for the holidays, when people generally stuff themselves silly, and encounters with relatives leave you wanting literally to pull your hair out? Here, then, are ARTINFO's top five works of art-inspired body transformation -- just in time for the long Thanksgiving weekend. Enjoy!

WARNING: Some of these images are graphic and contain blood.


Body modification art has been burning up the headlines lately, ever since artist and New York University professor Wafaa Bilal announced that he would be undergoing surgery to implant a thumbnail-sized camera in the back of his skull. Now the procedure has been completed, and the implant will automatically take one photo per minute for an entire year. Dubbed "The 3rd I," the project was commissioned for a show at Qatar's new Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art -- to be previewed to the public on December 15, and open at the end of that month -- and will allow viewers to see snaps of Bilal's rear view transmitted live to monitors at the Mathaf show, as well as on an associated Web site (currently the website just shows a countdown until the surgically implanted camera goes live). "I have had the idea for the project in the back of my head (no pun intended) and am delighted to now see it come to reality," the artist relayed to the Wall Street Journal via a spokeswoman.


Close in spirit to Bilal, though a good deal more extreme in execution, are the shenanigans of the Australian-Greek artist known as Stelarc (born Stelios Arcadiou). Known for technological experiments with body augmentation -- including a project for which he allowed internet users to control his muscles remotely -- He famously, and somewhat controversially, had a "third ear" ear grafted onto his forearm in 2007 to make a statement about... something. The ear, made of cartilage, was nonfunctional, though a subsequent surgery installed a microphone into the graft, enabling Stelarc to "hear" with it remotely. Alas, according to the artist's Web site, the mic had to be removed following a major infection associated with the procedure. (Incidentally, a lot of the groatiest "bio-art" seems to come from Down Under -- who can forget the Australian duo Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr's project for MoMA's "Design and the Elastic Mind" show, a living leather jacket made out of stem cells, which curator Paola Antonelli had to "abort" when it began to grow out of control?)


Best known these days as a creator of elegantly ironic mixed-media paintings and high-concept sculpture -- his colossus "Pazuzu" featured prominently in "Skin Flute," the New Museum's Jeff Koons-curated tribute to the racy tastes of collector Dakis Joannou -- Italian artist Roberto Cuoghi burst onto the scene with a now-legendary 1998 "life-share" performance, in which he attempted to transform himself, for all intents and purposes, into his own father, swelling to more than 300 pounds, dying his hair white, and growing a beard. Essentially, Cuoghi voluntarily lived in the body of the much older, ailing man for several years, until his father passed away. According to reports, the long-lasting performance had extreme health effects, and even required surgery to return the artist to his younger self -- a bit like body modification art in reverse.

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