Bionic Pop Artist Viktoria Modesta, in conversation with Catarina Ramalho about diversity and progress within the fashion and music industries.
We are living in an era where artistic expression continuously challenges us to question societal stereotypes and archaic norms of what we should and shouldn’t be. So, why fully embrace one’s most real version of self is still labeled as a rebellious act?
MIT Media Lab fellow, Creative Director, Singer and Model Viktoria Modesta shares how she has been using her multi-media platforms to challenge convention, and hold important conversations on how technology can be integrated into fashion to add quality and beauty to our lives.
The concept of what the ‘fashionable body’ is and the idea of the perfect female body shape is continuously evolving. You’re from the future, Viktoria. How does it look from over there?
The narrow view of fashionable has definitely expanded. I love the diversity that is finally becoming visible through social media. It is funny how we need the visual representation to feel more comfortable with something. Even though the fashion and beauty industries are still behind from adequately supporting diversity and representation regardless of size and physical ability, there are a handful of people that are making the difference, pushing things forward.
The loss of a limb can be a distressing experience; as for many, it is associated with an accident or traumatic event. For you, it gave you another leaf in life. Would you mind sharing your story with our readers and how you reached the point of volunteering to undergo surgery?
There’s this obsession out there that the biological body is the most valuable thing, even if you are suffering. An accident at birth, followed by several negligence mistakes back in USSR, left the nerves in my leg damaged and affected its growth. I moved to the UK at age 12, and that’s when I started to do my own research. I concluded that replacing my leg with an artificial one would have a drastic positive effect on my body and lifestyle. It took five years to convince the surgeons to perform the amputation, I don’t know why, but somehow, it’s still more acceptable to be on painkillers for the rest of your life. From function to the quality of life, my life has changed. I finally could be in control of the leg I had and could be as creative and conceptual as I wanted to be with it.
You also never tried to wear anything that resembles ‘a leg.’ Why did you decide not to?
I prefer to wear basic prosthetics when it comes to my day-to-day life. I’m a show-woman, and I have a busy schedule. The avant-garde body image idea is a part of my work as an artist. I love presenting a carefully crafted futuristic concept of identity, and I l use technology and design to create impactful, edgy cultural content. That’s what makes my work stand out, not the fact that I wear a prosthetic.
I know that you have commissioned prosthetics from Sophia de Oliveira Barata and her bespoke prosthetics company Altlimbpro. Would you mind sharing how consultation or collaboration between two of you was?
Art prosthetics wasn’t even a thing when we got together. When we met, she was making realistic silicon skins for prostheses, but she had a real passion for creating something that playful, and creative. I already had a few unusual pieces, and she approached me to collaborate. The first one was the diamond-encrusted piece for Paralympics 2012. We had a great time creating some unique pieces together. We put so much thought, effort and care into designing ordinary objects, so why not do the same for something that is as intimately connected to you as a prosthetic?
The Swarovski crystals piece and the black spike are my personal favorites. Would you consider designing your own line of prosthetics?
I honestly had no intention to get involved with prosthetics beyond personal projects, but the state of prosthetics for women is shocking. We are developing a female-focused prosthetic and accessory line, which I cannot wait to get to the market. Having the freedom to wear any shoes I wanted and having an aesthetic choice really changed my life.
I see fashion is a perfect arena to explore these larger societal conversations around inclusivity, and I have seen it change a lot over the past decade. How do you see the integration of technology and fashion evolving?
This is a space I am very passionate about. Tech wearables are helping to blur the lines between medical wearables, fashion, and lifestyle. Do you think it will it matter in 10 to 30 years time that the technology you are wearing is regulating your body temperature, playing music, or helping you walk? Smart fashion and the possibilities that come with it are mind-blowing. I’m particularly interested in invisible tech, that is already making familiar and ordinary objects smarter. It’s already around. There are pieces of clothing that have sensors and is able to provide biological feedback, but I think this is really just the beginning.
People wouldn’t necessarily know this, but you’re also a creative director and singer and fellow at MIT Media Lab. What are the projects that you’re working on at the moment?
Things really changed when I became a fellow at MIT Media Lab 3 years ago. After spending almost a decade working on conceptual fashion, performance, and entertainment, this new door opened for me. I’ve been learning how emerging technology can impact the future of culture fashion, body, well….. everything. It’s been a wild ride, and I’m finally starting to implement that in new projects. I dabbled with bringing tech into my work in a collaboration and performance piece ‘Sonifica’ that I presented a year ago at Miami Art Basel, which was all about instrumenting the body. Now I’m focused on really being the interface between science/tech and art and pop culture creating new content, music as well as work with world-changing brands. So much in the pipeline is under an NDA (ha-ha) so I can’t say too much. I have started working on a new conceptual album that I hope will be the soundtrack to all the collaborations that I have planned involving AR, VR, Biomechatronics and tech fashion.
“Forget what you knew about disability,” – at the beginning of your music video for Prototype. That caught my eye. I think the whole ‘disabled’ label is socially undermining. Do you think that we are at a point in society that we should start addressing how reductive this label can be?
That is definitely happening already. I think that the prototype piece gave courage to a lot of people to get out there and be heard, but also made a lot of people to question their old-fashioned views. The influencer community with disabilities has blown through the roof in the last three years, and it’s utterly heart-warming. The change is well underway just give it a minute!
Do you feel that engaging with other people that do not fit the mold of ‘socially acceptable’ or the status quo empowered you to follow your path?
For sure, when I landed in London at age 12, I was utterly enchanted by the subculture scene. I spent most of my formative years around flamboyant characters, artists, nightclubs and everything avant-garde. Those experiences guided me to unapologetically exercising my identity and sticking to authenticity and your values.
What’s next for Viktoria Modesta?
I recently relocated to Los Angeles, which has been fantastic, so this is a new chapter! The motto is ‘experiment & collaborate.’ I want to continue creating fearlessly and showcase that entertainment and fashion can be approached with a deep sense of social impact and progress. Most importantly I think its time to help shift the balance and create content that has a real version of the future after all ‘successful technology is indistinguishable from magic’ let’s have more magic in the world!