It has been 20 years in the making and involves the growth of a human organ, but for Perth-based artist Stelarc, it is just another project.
The Curtin University professor is growing a human ear on his arm.
“People’s reactions range from bemusement to bewilderment to curiosity, but you don’t really expect people to understand the art component of all of this,” Stelarc said.
“I guess I’ve always got something up my sleeve, but often my sleeve is rolled down.”
Stelarc first conceived the idea in 1996, but it took another decade to find the medical team willing to make it a reality.
They were recruited from around the world to insert a scaffold underneath his skin.
Within six months, tissue and blood vessels had developed around the structure.
“The ear is pretty much now a part of my arm, it’s fixed to my arm and it has its own blood supply,” he said.
The next step is to make the ear more three-dimensional — lifting it up off the arm and growing an ear lobe from Stelarc’s stem cells.
From there, a miniature microphone that can wirelessly connect to the internet will be inserted.
“This ear is not for me, I’ve got two good ears to hear with. This ear is a remote listening device for people in other places,” he said.
“They’ll be able to follow a conversation or hear the sounds of a concert, wherever I am, wherever you are.
“People will be able to track, through a GPS as well, where the ear is.”
Stelarc, who is the head of the Alternate Anatomies Laboratory at Curtin University, said the project was a sign of things to come.
“Increasingly now, people are becoming internet portals of experience … imagine if I could hear with the ears of someone in New York, imagine if I at the same time could see with the eyes of someone in London.”
And if you were wondering about his privacy, Stelarc said he hoped the microphone would stay on 24/7.
“There won’t be an on-off switch,” Stelarc laughed.
“If I’m not in a wi-fi hotspot or I switch off my home modem, then perhaps I’ll be offline, but the idea actually is to try to keep the ear online all the time.”
The microphone has already been tested successfully, but it had to be taken out because of an infection.
It is hoped that will not be a problem second time around.