The Evolution of the First Bionic Pop Artist

Costumes, Cosplay, and Props Craft & Design Music Technology
Woman in dress with prosthetic leg that emits smoke.

Now a famed musical artist, innovation enthusiast and bionic woman Viktoria Modesta’s journey to the spotlight has been anything but ordinary. Following medical complications at birth, Modesta spent much of her childhood receiving treatment for a damaged left leg. Despite 15 surgeries over the first 12 years of her life, her physical difference continued to be a struggle.

Eager to escape the post-Soviet stigma surrounding her leg in her home country of Latvia, Modesta and her parents emigrated to London, where she took refuge in the city’s underground subculture. The allure of the alternative scene fed her interest in fashion, music and performance, but the condition of her injured leg continued to linger. After five years of intense research and several rejections, she finally gained support from a surgeon to replace her left leg with a prosthetic.

Following surgery, Modesta was finally ready to deploy her new identity that featured a multitude of passions. Creating a performance concept with bold sound, imagery and inevitably prosthetics, Modesta created a new element of expression that evolved from an aesthetically stunning Diamond Leg and extreme Black Spike to technologically advanced pieces working with sensors and neurally-controlled devices.

Today, Modesta is a fellow of the MIT Media Lab and an award winning artist. She continues to merge art, technology and popular culture in the promotional photoshoot for her upcoming EP “Counterflow,” where she sports a variety of high-fashion wearable instruments.

The shoot was a collaboration of several artists and makers under the creative direction of Viktoria Modesta and Joanna Hir. Styled by Joanna Hir, and photographed by Nhu Xuan Hua, the images show three transhumanism designs.

‘Sonified Carbon Fiber Body Suit’ by Selina Bond and Adam John Williams. Selina Bond’s carbon fiber body suit has been augmented with an array of sensors which, in combination with a Puredata patch, can translate Viktoria’s physical movements into musical note data. The tonal qualities of this musical sequence are then further modulated by a BPM biosignal, captured via a pulseoximeter within an earring.
“Smokification” by Anouk Wipprecht. Accelerometer-based leg equipped with an Arduino 101 and embedded Intel Curie that intuitively steers Viktoria’s movements while she interfaces with the world around her using a facade of smoke. Anouk is working with Viktoria on using her prosthetic leg as a gesture-based digital musical instrument, in collaboration with Alex Murray-Leslie from Chicks on Speed.
‘Boning Corset’ by Winde Rienstra with sonification by Anouk Wipprecht and Adam John Williams. For this piece, Viktoria’s hand & body movements are tracked via a webcam using LEDs. Driven by a backpack-based microcontroller & power distribution system created by Anouk Wipprecht, the resulting webcam data is fed into a Max MSP-based image sonification system designed by Adam John Williams. Musical output is created from the combination of the playback sequence of the LEDs embedded within the outfit, along with Viktoria’s movements. MUA by Lan Nguyen-Grealis, hair Kim Roy, and set design Helen Sirp & Lisa Jahovic. Styling assistance David Asmutis. Produced by Michela Magas and Viktoria Modesta.

While Modesta’s journey toward self-discovery is deeply personal, her curiosity to combine science and technology with art and design is part of her greater mission to explore the future identity of human augmentation and extension. With the rise of technological and scientific innovation in medicine, performing arts, fashion and music, the very concept that defines a ‘normal’ human being is being put to the test. The theory that technology is an artificial ‘other’ separate from the person is being slowly dissolved by the emerging work of artists like Modesta who showcase the elegant use of technology as an integrated extension of our human capabilities.

Inspired by such possibilities, makers from every corner of the world are gathering together to test and develop new forms of technology that enable greater musical performance and expression than ever before. This maker mentality is perhaps best represented by Music Tech Fest – a three-day arts festival and creative laboratory hosted at different locations around the globe. This year, from May 27-30th, hundreds of engineers, hackers and tech enthusiasts, including Modesta, will descend upon Berlin, Germany to present their best technological innovations and ideas for the music industry.

The return of award-winning digital artists such as Adam John Williams promises to attract a large audience. Known for examining the creative space where the lines between hacking and making music blur, Williams previously received widespread recognition for Quirkuitar – a software synthesizer with a guitar-style controller that snatched Music Tech Fest’s grand prize for best new instrument in 2013.

Williams will also be joined by professional musician Kris Halpin, who was made famous for using Imogen Heap’s MiMu Gloves to perform live on stage in place of a guitar. Faced with a disability that limits his ability to play guitar and piano, Halpin became one of the first to substitute traditional instruments with MiMu Gloves – a gestural device equipped with motion sensors and assignable controls that enable users to trigger any sound an instrument can make simply by waving their arm.

In conjunction with the element14 Community, Music Tech Fest will also host a 24-hour hack camp for artists, hackers, makers and developers interested in building new ways to interact with music. element14 – home to the largest online community of engineers and tech enthusiasts in the world – will provide 50 hand-picked participants with the tools and electronic components needed to create new musical fashion wearables. Benjamin Heckendorn, of element14’s The Ben Heck Show will also be at the event offering assistance to participants.

By taking back control of her body through creativity and ingenuity, Viktoria Modesta helped give credence to the notion that a unique combination of music and technology can enhance the human experience. Each day, that same maker mentality serves as motivation for thousands of engineers and hackers at Music Tech Fest and beyond.

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Kelly Hensen

Director, Global Content and Community, element14

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