Pong Body

Scot’s recent post on Stelarc’s Ping Body has reminded me of this idea I had when reading Mackenzie’s chapter in Transductions on Stelarc and Virilio…

From Stelarc’s website:

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.

Ping Body was a performance-based artwork. Here is the hyper-technical layout diagram:

Massumi and Mackenzie both discuss Ping Body. Massumi argues that to write the rejoinding of mind and body that Stelarc performs is a challenge and “requires a willingness to revisit some of our basic notions of what a body is and does as an acting, perceiving, thinking, feeling thing” (90). Later, directly about Ping Body, Massumi writes:

“The body plugs into the mass of information. As a mass, information is not itself. Its content is neutralized. Information impinges directly on the body as a force, which is why voluntary control is designated out of the loop. In this variation, the emphasis is on making the force of information visible. […] The body becomes a resonating vessel for the force of information to which it is now singularly sensitized. This device encompasses a restaging of the degree-zero of sensation, tuned to the cybernetic potential of the body. It composes a virtual center for the Internet series of events” (124). 

Brute information (force) in an cybernetic event is not enough. What is absent from this ‘artwork for techno-geeks’ is precisely the dimension of enthusiasm that makes the mass of information (internet) worth plugging into! Information is what circulated on the proto-internet when it was an assemblage of the military-(post-)industrial complex. Now there is a new highest-speed data transfer ring encompassing the Earth for the transmission of mega amounts of information. Information in itself is not what circulates online on the everyday internet; that is, the force of information is not merely electrical signals into which we can plug. As Massumi writes, Stelarc plugged into ‘neutralised’ informational content. What is the full force of information?

What are the most enthusiastic domains of online computing? Porn and gaming. Both are apparatuses of capture for an excess of libidnial and affective potentials. Both operate with a strict cultural economy facilitated by the credit card revolution. Everything from the internet connection itself to monthly gaming passes (such as used in World of Warcraft) or memberships to porn sites rely on exchange and the authorising function of the credit card. Flows of libidinal desire, pre-postal alienation and credit-money-identity come together online. It is a nexus which is continually turned-over and reinvented. Its purpose is to suspend you as a node intersecting many flows. What holds it all together, that is, what gives the nexus its consistency is what I am calling enthusiasm. If Stelarc’s task was to capture the force of massified information, what I want to imagine is, How to capture the enthusiasm that gives this information consistency?

Enter: Pong Body.

Warning: This is not for the squeamish! Please leave now if you are easily disgusted and so on…

Pong Body will draw on the different meanings of the word ‘pong’ in an installation that attempts to capture the enthusiasm that circulates on the internet as the content of information. It will be a work of what Jon Mckenzie has called ‘perfumance’ (see his book Perform or Else).

Pong was one of the first video games to be designed for commercial production. Ralph Baer:


“I came up with the concept of playing games on a standard TV set or TV monitor in September of 1966. The idea was to make an alternate, interactive use of tens of millions of home TV sets then in homes world-wide. The final equipment we built at Sanders Associates in 1967 (the “Brown Box”) was licensed to Magnavox in 1970 and appeared as the Odyssey 1TL200 on the market in the US in May of 1972. Approximately one-hundred-thousand of these video game systems were sold that year by Magnavox. There was invention, development of the idea, marketing of the idea and follow through to see it into significant production. […] Incidentally, [Nolan] Bushnell’s company, Atari, was the first to take a license under my patents in the 70’s. The fact that Nolan Bushnell developed PONG after he played a ping-pong game on an Odyssey 1TL200 at a L.A. Magnavox dealership demo in May of 1972 is also well-known.” 

The Pong site linked above is written in a mildly paranoid fashion. Everyone must receive their dues. The Pong game captures some sense of the early enthusiasm for entertainment-based computing found in various forms of computer. Gaming is a massive cultural industry and will only increase in net worth and cultural importance. The first part of Pong Body will involve two people playing Pong on an early gaming system with the game displayed on a big screen. The exact nature of the gaming system is not important, but a black and white version of Pong would be good.

The second part of Pong Body is inspired, in equal parts by Stelarc’s performance/installation and the infamous image known as ‘tubgirl‘:


Tubgirl.com was a redirect to a picture (tubgirl.jpg) of a naked woman lying in a bathtub, buttocks raised, projecting a fountain of liquid feces from her anus, after apparently having been given an enema. The liquid (also rumored to be orange juice) splashes over her body and face. Her pubic region is censored with a mosaic. Before the launch of tubgirl.com, this image was featured in a rotten.com story “Fecal Japan” claiming that the subject matter is allegedly popular in Japan. The image displayed on tubgirl.com is marked as having been previously posted on http://www.consumptionjunction.com. The reason for the site’s demise is unknown. 

Pong Body would connect the gaming system on which Pong was being played to someone’s intestine (through the anus) by way of electrodes so the back-and-forth rhythm of Pong would stimulate the capillary action of the intestine. This part of the performance would be called Shit Happens. It represents the capacity of the capitalist axiomatic to territorialise even shit so it becomes a commodity. The labour of many people in the world is simply to produce shit because of the enthusiasm of others. This may or may not work.

The last part of Pong Body is quite simple. It relates to the production of commodities from the enthusiasm and shit of consumers. A series of canvases on a turnstyle would be positioned in front of the connected anus. The canvases would spin around at such a rate that when the feces are projected from the artist’s anus it would spray over the canvases. Here we have the mechanised mass-production of shit-commodities. Each canvas would be numbered, for example “Pong Body #1”, and be for sale on a real time auction on e-bay.com. The performance would be timed in such a way that when the auction ended so did the peformance. The sense of anticipation at the end of the auction would capture another dimension of enthusiasm.

So the three parts of Pong Body are:

1) The Pong computer game, gaming system, video screen and players.

2) The ‘tub-artist’ whose intestine is hardwired to the Pong gaming system and whose anus is directed at a spinning turnstyle of commodities.

3) The real-time online auction of the limited-edition mass-produced Pong Body shit-commodity artworks.

There are two other (temporal-affective) dimensions to Pong Body:

4) The hidden dimension of the enthusiasm produced by word-of-mouth or word-of-internet-post when word of this spreads as a form of cultural virus.

5) The post-event dimension after the ‘shit happens’. It would be filmed by mutliple cameras and broadcast online. However, an edited version would be sold on DVD complete with ‘extras’ including a ‘making of’ documentary that will include this blog post. Thus it will capitalise further on the enthusiasm produced.

Pong Body would capture a ‘truth’ of the internet and info-tech cultural industries that is glaringly absent from Stelarc’s sterile performances…

4 replies on “Pong Body”

  1. i like yr proposal, although i don’t think it’s really all that different from stelarc’s performance. for me, stelarc’s piece already has the porn & gaming elements you refer to, just in a more abstracted (and imho intriguing) way. btw, i’ve never thought of stelarc’s work as sterile. from the ‘suspension’ performances onwards he has regularly put his body through extremes of pain and endurance, which regardless (and perhaps because of) any apparently clinical aspects of the presentation, tends to produce strong physical and emotional responses in the observer (/participant in the case of ping body. arguably the observer is implicated as a participant in many of his works).

    but i reckon you should go ahead and produce it – i’d like to see it! (kinda…)

  2. I like Massumi’s discussion of “Suspension” in PotV in terms of how many hooks were needed to suspend Stelac!

    By ‘sterile’ I didn’t only mean in a literal sense of shit and blood or pain, but as a result of the explicit focus on the ways the ‘body’ is fodder for the cybernetic machine it misses out on the ‘passion’ dimension. I am specifically focusing on Ping Body. To put it another way, there is no indication on Stelarc’s website _why_ Ping Body is worth doing. The worthiness of the act is meant to be obvious merely because of the status of ‘Ping Body’ as art. What is at stake here is the ‘obviousness’ of Ping Body. This underlines the bourgeois refusal to fully engage with the capitalistic axiomatic machine. By not engaging with the status of Ping Body as purely useless beyond its status as art (or as you point out, the afective spectator dimension), there is an avoidance of asking the questions of why it is worth plugging in or being plugged into the mass of information. This is a crucial dimension. The desire of Stelarc to produce art is great, the desire of spectators to watch the Stelarc-spectacle is also good, but what I am thinking about here is attemptiing to capture exactly what makes people connect to the internet. Yes, my imaginary installation is a critique of Stelarc’s work. Not a generic critique of the notion of art for art’s sake, but of the notion of connectedness between ‘information’ stripped of content and the human body. Stelarc’s work is an elision of what *matters* within network cultures, of why clusters organise around enthusiasms, and why the capitalist axiomatic can produce assumptions about what is a commodity (or art or not-art). Of course, my idea of Pong Body is meant to funny and not to be taken too seriously, in fact, I think one might cause oneself a lot of pain if one was to attempt to fix electrodes up someone’s arse to the inside of their intestines…

  3. i know it’s not meant to be taken too seriously, but if anyone could do it, it’s stelarc – see his stomach sculpture works!

    btw, i disagree with some of yr assumptions about stelarc, and art more generally. the question of ‘why’ is implicit in much (most?) art, including stelarc’s. answering that question is what the audience, or critic brings to the work (as you have done by proposing ‘pong body’) which is, in a sense, part of the work.

    there is plenty of overtly political art, and i appreciate a lot of it (particularly culture jamming stuff) but it tends to be propaganda. and while there’s a time for that, there’s also a time for mystery, ambiguity and reflection.

    as for the ‘bourgeois refusal to fully engage with the capitalist axiomatic machine’ i would argue that there are different ways, and spheres of engagement. and frankly, from my experience the activist class isn’t so different from the bourgeoisie.

Comments are closed.