MEHANISTA: 8 Portraits of Cyborgs


Digital painting, installation, video 9 min

‘MEHANISTA: 8 Portraits of Cyborgs’ is an installation that consists of eight monumental digital paintings and video. It is a cyberfeminist manifesto presenting the idea of Self, along with all its identity characteristics such as gender, race, species, ethnicity, nationality, and class background, as a hybrid and fluid concept determined by our ever-changing relationship with the environment, the animals, and the machines. We are not isolated, singular selves, but complex, syncretic beings. At the heart of the concept lies the viewpoint that technology is a tool of liberation, not of war. The paintings present eight portraits of cyborgs, inspired by historical and contemporary semi-documentary and semi-fictional images, accompanied by textual manifestos from antiquity to the present day. These images clearly show that ideas of the hybrids between people and technology are not new, even though the active discussion about them in their contemporary form dates back only a century. The feminist perspective on this relationship requests technology to be a mean of liberation while critiquing its use to feed the primal human desire to dominate, rule, and destroy itself along with everything else.

The installation is situated in hall #19 of the National Gallery Kvadrat 500, and co-exists with ancient archeological remains of a Roman chamber tomb emphasizing the relationship between past and present, technology and death.

Catalogue of the exhibition


Text on the image to the right: Thunder

I am the mother and the daughter.

I am the members of my mother.

I am the barren one and many are her sons.

I am she whose wedding is great,

and I have not taken a husband.

I am the midwife and she who does not bear.

I am the solace of my labor pains.

I am the bride and the bridegroom,

and it is my husband who begot me.

I am the mother of my father

and the sister of my husband

and he is my offspring.

Unknown author – The Thunder, Perfect Mind, 350 


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.

M.Y: You use facts from history in chronological order and turn them into images of cyborgs that embody purely human daring and qualities. Why do you choose the cyborg as your hero?

B.R: The cyborg represents precisely the chimera that I need to develop my idea of technology as an emancipatory tool, as a tool for liberation rather than the destruction of the human race. We create machines and project our desires onto them. They are the result of our fantasies. Inventing the knife, we may use it to cut fruit from a tree or to kill someone. After the idea of slavery became unacceptable to humanity, it was reborn in other forms, one of which is the idea of the robot as almost human, but devoid of free will. Onto the robot, onto the android, or onto the cyborg—as not quite human—we may project our ideas onto our new slaves, and also fear the possibility that they may destroy us. The rhetoric is the same—we talk about animals in the same way. We can trace this discussion back through the ages, yet there is nothing new, even when it comes to the most modern inventions.

M.Y: I shall mention the Laws of Robotics and especially the addition in 1974 of the fourth and fifth laws by the science fiction writer, Lyuben Dilov, namely:

• A robot must establish its identity as a robot in all cases.

• A robot must know it is a robot. (Nikola Kesarevski)

Is it not too much to require of robots; and isn’t the fifth law actually the first? Is it not fundamental to know that you are a robot before you can effectively perform your role as such?

B.R: Self-awareness is a revolutionary process. If you are a robot that is required to obey every order, then we can have different outcomes: despair and resignation, or a desire to overcome your subordinate position. Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics were intended by him to be laws that should apply to humans. In 2004, the ULTRAFUTURO group made several performances dedicated to these laws—‘3 Hooks for Catching Up Text’ at Banya Starinna in Plovdiv. Then we read the first manifesto of the group, in which the first point (in contrast to Asimov) stated: ‘Due to the ever-increasing presence of intelligent machines in our daily lives, we declare the symbiosis between human and machine as the only possible form of existence.’ This is also one of the texts used in the images in this exhibition. whereas Dilov intensifies oppression with his additions to Asimov’s laws.

M.Y: Literally translated, ULTRAFUTURO, the name of the group you founded in 2004 along with Oleg Mavromatti and the artists Anton Terziev, Katya Damyanova, and Miroslav Dimitrov, means ‘extreme future’. Is our common future likely to be extreme?

BR: The current historical moment does not inspire optimistic forecasts. It is a paradox that, despite the fact that we have such advanced technologies, we have not dealt with poverty, hunger, and disease in the world; on the contrary—we are fighting and killing each other with these same technologies. A significant proportion of engineering and scientific developments are not developed for military purposes; but then, instead of applying them to improve life, to free people from suffering, we figure out how to use them to make ourselves suffer even more. If we stop thinking of ourselves as the most important thing in the universe,  if we reject selfishness and refuse to be parasites, but do our best to live together and in symbiosis with everything around us, including our inventions, and think of it as the only possible existence mode—then our future will be extremely wonderful, not extremely monstrous. This is how I would like my exhibition to be understood.

Guessing Game

Screen performance, 9:35 min.

I’m Jinn, I read thoughts like magic. Think of an animal…Is it bigger than a washing machine?

“Guessing Game” is a performance recorded directly from the computer screen where the action takes place. Boryana Rossa plays with digital images telling a story about their relationships. The creation of images in the digital space allows us to produce relatively easy fantastical creatures that move and interact. Their hybrid nature does not raise amusement, but rather interacts easily with our subconsciousness where a microwave could have muscles, dogs wear glasses and human heads roll and shoot with their eyes. This techno-game is a new form of the age-old practice of connecting with the unknown through chimerical imagery.

The artist works with Internet memes (chimeras such as Trollge (hybrid with Mr. Trololo), Doge, Cheems, KB & QT), often represented within Internet subcultures as active exponents of social or political ideas. Shooting, smashing, copying, and reloading is activating these ideas. Issues of Internet violence have been discussed many times and led to different conclusions. For Rossa, this violence is both a sublimation of hidden desires and a consciously accepted cultural code. In this video, she ends “the fight” with a drawing of a white dove that carries an olive branch.