INTERVIEW WITH BORYANA ROSSA
Conducted in the occasion of MEHANISTA: 8 Portraits of Cyborgs exhibition in Hall 19 of the National Gallery’s Kvadrat 500. Martina Yordanova, the exhibition curator, asked the questions.
M.Y: Boryana, MEHANISTA: 8 Portraits of Cyborgs exhibition was not your first in the branches of the National Gallery. You have previously been a visiting artist, and your last solo performance was at SAMCA in 2017. What was different this time? What would you like to tell the public that is new?
B.R: The exhibition at SAMCA, ‘Augmented Realism’, was a retrospective of some of my autobiographical works. It also featured for the first time drawings relating to my personal life and my thoughts on the perception of women in art. When I share personal experiences, it is important to me to seek wider publicity. I am convinced that sharing even the most intimate thoughts is a political act. After all, none of us are so exclusive as to have experiences that no one else has ever had and therefore will never understand. In both exhibitions, the body, technology, and gender were central themes for me: the body as my own, but also sharing experiences with others; technology as modern-day progress, but also as developing since the invention of the first tool of labor and therefore having an extremely social and political significance; and gender as the basis of identity, but also a class category of division and enmity in society. Gender, in my opinion, is the one that most clearly intersects all other categories such as class, race, ethnicity, nationality, ability etc. In comparison with ‘Augmented Realism’, the current exhibition has a completely different subject. Here, I conduct my own historical review of various images and texts relating to cyborgs—or, more generally, to the idea of the symbiosis between humans, animals, plants, technology, and the environment. For me, the concepts of ‘symbiosis’ and ‘peace’ are fundamental in these relationships.
M.Y: Are there any differences between a cyborg, robot, and android; and, if so, can we reduce them to the same denominator, as is partly the case in MEHANISTA: 8 Portraits of Cyborgs exhibition?
B.R: Yes, there are differences. Cyborgs are bodies improved with the help of technology. We are all already cyborgs because we cannot exist without electronic appendages such as computers and mobile phones, although they are not yet implanted in our bodies. Robots are machines that can be partially autonomous or fully human-controlled, but metaphorically carry the ‘threat’ of the so-called ‘ghost in the machine’ – or the unexpected appearance of independence, not controlled by people.
Androids add to the question of why we want machines to look like us, and whether it would be too frightening if they were too similar to us. Both the tension and symbiosis between machines and people exist in all three categories; that is why it is important to me to consider them together. Moreover, the ‘robot’ has historically been a concept with a strong symbolic charge. In the ULTRAFUTURO group—of which I am a co-founder, along with Oleg Mavromatti—we use the robot as a symbol of the other, of the alien, of the ‘foreigner’, even, of the marginalized, of the one who carries the image of all those discriminated against on any grounds; and, at the same time, it carries a revolutionary pathos. The robot as a symbol is also a way to explore the world, which for me goes hand in hand with feminism.
M.Y: How long have you been attracted to robotics, technologisation, and cyberfeminism? Since when have you been exploring the relationship between cybernetics, feminism, technology, and art in general?
B.R: I grew up in a family of engineers. Machines and their creation—as mechanics, electronics, and philosophy—have constantly accompanied me since my birth. With my parents, who worked at the Institute of Microprocessor Technology, I toured various factories; at home, we had tons of science fiction books and the Cosmos and Science and Technology for Youth magazines. One of my self-portraits, painted in my first year at the Art Academy, was set against the background of a printed circuit board. Computer memory—again, as aesthetics, form, manufacture, but also philosophy—was part of my master thesis project. After that, I continued to create in the fields of digital arts, SciArt; we established ULTRAFUTURO as a group that dealt with the social dimensions of the application of technologies. Technology can be talked about in many ways that avoid those very aspects that interest me. For example, one can talk only about the machine’s function and efficiency. And in art, technology is often used to create something amusing that lights up, beeps, and reacts when we push a button. To me, this has always been an extremely limited and consumerist attitude towards technology, while, in art, it leads to superficial works that at first glance amaze techno-laics with their new technoachievements, and the next month falls far short of the commercial application of the same tricks. In the 1990s, for example, it was very fashionable to make installations that employed sensors reacting to the human presence; now, in every children’s museum, there is such a video toy that is even considered boring. In a word, if art is some kind of techno-trick, it is extremely transient and looks ridiculous against the background of its commercial version. But if art dedicated to and using technology engages with other themes that are part of the discourse in humanities, then it has a long life. Therefore my interest in technology has always been part of everything else that intrigues me. But the conscious and purposeful reconciliation of feminism and technology began with the founding of ULTRAFUTURO. Teamwork was the intellectual stimulus.