The Art of Arthur Elsenaar

There's a bloke in a dapper white suit standing motionless, holding a small metal plate with a picture of a traditional Dutch sausage on it. You wander past, wondering what the hell he's doing in this gallery / conference; his face starts to tremor in a most unnatural way. As you close in, this becomes a wild hunching, pop-eyed, lip-pursing spasm that, depending on your sensibility, disgusts, amuses, or intrigues.

The sausage simulacrum covers a radar sensor from which a 24-volt pulsed DC current delivers a variable charge of up to 3 miliAmps to two electrodes attached above the jaw and two to the `hunch' muscles in the shoulders of Dutch artist / artwork Arthur Elsenaar, 31.

The interactive Body Convention was Elsenaar's graduation piece as a digital artist last summer from Minerva Academy in Groningen, Holland, since when he has exhibited it / himself at the Fons Welters Gallery and the Doors of Perception conference in Amsterdam.

"It's a simple analogue doppler effect. The radar range is modifiable, from around 1-5 metres - although five is too far. As someone approaches, a phase shift converts the radar signal to a proportional current," says Elsenaar. "It's like an aura, or an extension of my skin into space, into which people can walk."

Elsenaar cut his teeth in electronics setting up and running pirate Radio and TV stations around Holland in the 80s. His first art show was at 1990's SISEA symposium and has taken interactive installations to Ars Electronica, Austria and Image du Future'91 in Montreal, Canada.

The electro-medical information and inspiration he gleaned from textbooks and books of French photographs from the 1850s of things like a face stimulated with electricity so one side was smiling and the other crying in a weird secondhand bookstore in Amsterdam that no longer exists.

"There was a tremendous amount of amateur research from the mid-1800s to the turn of the century by gentlemen scholar-types just running current through their bodies or brains and recording the results.

"I'm working now making the whole system digital, which would drastically increase the range of responses and allow me to extract more information from the sensors." He's currently experimenting with head-turn and nodding motions and having his arms and fingers manipulated, and different responses for an approaching and retreating interactor.

Who on walking away is handed a reproduction of the sensor's image, backed by the words: Wurst - simulacra for the Pavlov people. Computer Generated Dutch Sausage. What's with this wurst thang?

"A sausage is manipulated meat and in Body Manipulation, so is my body. There are also many connotations - little sayings and things - about this traditional food in Dutch culture - like if you hold up a sausage while you speak it's taken as a sign of falseness - just as my gestures are false.

"And the English pun worst. As a digital artist, I was very intrigued by all this talk about the End-of-the-Body, or `meat'. I think very strong feelings are provoked because of how we all feel about electricity on a deep level: it's dangerous - even mystic - and yet it can be measured out and controlled. It says something very primal about the relationship between us and our technology. And no, it's not painful - although it tingles a bit!"


updated 1993