Ear on arm, for art (+ video)

Australian artist Stelarc shows his ear on his arm which in the future will enable people to hear...
Australian artist Stelarc shows his ear on his arm which in the future will enable people to hear his voice over the internet. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.

Australian artist Stelarc has an third ear, but this one isn't for his hearing.

In 2006, Stelarc (70) had an artificial ear construction inserted into his arm as an art project.

Later that year during a second surgery, a microphone was inserted into the ear to test whether it would pick up the human voice and wirelessly send it to a transmitter elsewhere. It did.

The end goal is to have the ear connected to Wi-Fi so people could log in anywhere in the world and hear what he was talking about. This was complex and would take up to 10 years.

Stelarc, who is in Dunedin as part of the New Zealand International Science Festival to take part in a debate tonight titled "You are your DNA'' and a talk tomorrow at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, said he had two good ears to hear with, and the third ear was not for him.

"This is [an] ear for people in other places.''

To attach the ear, three plastic surgeons performed two surgeries in Los Angeles. His arm was chosen as the preferred location for the ear. His head was not deemed a safe site.

The first surgery took three hours. Surgeons inserted a kidney-shaped silicone pouch scaffold into his arm beneath his skin, and suctioned the skin tight over the scaffold.

After the surgery, he self-injected sterile saline solution into the pouch. As the pouch filled up with saline, his skin stretched over the pouch scaffold.

"I didn't particularly like sticking needles into my arm.''

He could not wear jackets or sweaters then, as his arm had a swelling the size of a tennis ball.

The surgery was not without complications.

After his second surgery later in 2006, his arm became badly infected.

During the six months after the surgeries, the ear had tissue in-growth, which means cells were encouraged to grow into the tissue scaffold. The ear grew its own blood capillaries, a process called "vascularisation'' .

The idea for the ear on his arm was the next step after he had undertaken other works such as an attached mechanical hand and 3-D printed arm with pneumatic rubber muscles.

His artist partner had spent several years dissecting human bodies. She was understanding and comfortable with what he was doing, Stelarc said.

Born Stelios Arcadiou, he had a normal childhood. He changed his name legally in 1971.

-By Julie Howard 

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