site in development
Stephen Gray, static electricity demonstration, London, 8 April 1730.

Electric Body Manipulation as Performance Art: A Historical Perspective

Arthur Elsenaar and Remko Scha

Published in Leonardo Music Journal in 12-2003


The authors trace the history of electric performance art. They begin with the roots of this art form in 18th-century experiments with “animal electricity” and “artificial electricity,” which were often performed as public demonstrations in royal courts and anatomical theaters. Next, the authors sketch the development of increasingly powerful techniques for the generation of electric current and their applications in destructive body manipulation, culminating in the electric chair.

Finally, they discuss the development of electric muscle-control technology, from its 18th-century beginnings through Duchenne de Boulogne’s photo sessions to the current work of Stelarc and Arthur Elsenaar.

Full text in PDF format available here.


In 2003 the article was awarded the Leonardo Award for Excellence.