New visibility for very old symbols? Viktoria Modesta, Prototype, Channel 4, "spike dance" [media review]
According to Viktoria Modesta, [link], the new video has given her the chance to express some of her more extreme ideas and continue in her fight against being categorized. Along with the video's director, Saam Farahmand, Modesta achieved these aims with the help of Sophie de Oliveira Barata at The Alternative Limb Project – a fascinating venture which creates bespoke, often highly artistic, prosthetic limbs for clients. In the 'making of' film, de Oliveira Barata explains how she created two bespoke limbs for Modesta – one that lights up and has an exposed mechanism (see above), and another that is essentially an elegant spike which Modesta equates to a kind of power dressing. The latter design appears towards the end of the Prototype film in a sequence that brilliantly combines dance, colour and sound design to dramatic effect. "For a long time, pop culture closed its doors on me as an amputee and alternative artist," Modesta explains. "I think people have always found it hard to know what to think or feel about an amputee who wasn't trying to be an Olympian."
Essentially, she is still in the process of counter-reacting to feeling as a victim of society and poor ability, leg wise. The spike does transform her into "something" else. It gives her "special powers". Also, there needed to be a deliberate collision between that "reality" and the one with the surgically cut off leg, as the director says in the "Making Of". Viktoria Modesta says that she tries to "bring some equality" into "the equation". Later the director admits that what she really is trying to do "is the big question". Apparently, she is publicly exploring "the fullest, richest version of herself". Modesta says that she is not considered to have a body that "is healthy in any terms". The director states that the video "is naughty" "because" Victoria "is a naughty person".
Images and video clip (C) Copyright Channel 4 / Viktoria Modesta
The Making Of:
At first we are told to "forget" what we "know about disability". I must admit that got me interested. Why would I want to forget that?
So the video really starts with a scene where there is a big syringe and a big knife, and we must assume that Viktoria Modesta is "in control" as she clearly sits on a throne and she is dressed up. She did undergo voluntary amputation of what probably was a disabled but not acutely ill leg. So this scene might go through as a fairy tale type re-enactment of her own past. Furthermore, we still see her as "herself", without mask.
Now, her new appearance features a prosthetic "spike" leg and not only that - she is also a cartoon figure. This sets the "spike" leg persona off against herself.
As the cartoon figure, her "spike" leg is used as a weapon. The symbolism of the cartoon sequence establishes that there is "good" (herself) and "bad" (a black ghost figure). The way to resolve the situation is to threaten the bad ghost off by using the prosthetic "spike" leg as a weapon. Her leg prominently features at the center, also at the center of the movie, frame or screen.
In her own persona and unmasked and not distorted as a cartoon character, her prosthetic leg is bright as it contains a lamp. It features prominently at the center.
Later, that lamp shining leg is shown to attract insects, making it a negative thing. In some scenes here the camera closes in on the prosthetic leg.
Then, Viktoria Modesta is also there undressed, prosthetic leg off as well as all the other stuff. Apparently she had sex, there was a man (at the back) and a woman sits behind her, both with no apparent handicap. The image at the back now shows her prosthetic "spike leg" wearing cartoon figurine, that featured earlier in the movie. Againb, her amputated leg is at the center of the video frame.
A boy draws the cartoon figurine that features Viktoria Modesta's "spike" leg. Later it appears that he gets it tattooed onto his body.
Then there is a scene where Viktoria Modesta sits in some type of court room being charged with something. What is used as prison wall here are laser beams (red lines in the images). She places her diamond covered leg into the laser beam. The resulting laser beam deflection is depicted as shots onto the uniformed guards. They seem perplexed. The prosthetic leg again is at the center of the video frames.
The movie culiminates with the "spike leg dance" scene. The camera closes in on the legs that also provide the center imagery for the most part.
The prosthetic "spike" leg is used to scrape the floor, and to be hammered on to the floor. Both create distinct sounds.
At one point, the prosthetic "spike" leg starts to break the ground. Fractures are impounded into the surface.
Then it becomes apparent that Viktoria Modesta is not relying on her legs to move forward or to dance. Instead, she moves about as a puppet, suspended by two strings.
Her face is masked.
We are then told these three slogans:
- Some of us were born to be different
- Some of us were born to take risks
- Born Risky #bornrisky
She was also portrayed wearing the "spike" legs:
Images (C) Copyright Evelina Stechnij
What do we make of this?
It appears to be quite valid to go back to one's own roots and take things from there. Here, Viktoria Modesta appears to go back to her own roots. However, this goes not too much further than being wildly stereotypical. So really, we should provide a bit of a critique for this pop video firstling.
Apparently Viktoria Modesta feels that it is necessary to show how a pointed sharp leg, possibly made from very hard materials, can be her "trademark" item in that it is prominently featured as a weapon - always mostly centrally located throughout the video -, equally used for cartoon or her own masked character - but not her unveiled face character. With that weaponized prosthetic leg, she fights off black dark spooky characters that may represent nightmares or a dark vision of aggressive society. Also, the very ground she is standing on, the earth, the surface, that makes us require two legs for walking, is portrayed as an enemy. With a "spike" leg clearly implemented as a weapon, she fights against the ground, and she shatters it wherever she smashes the ground with the prosthetic "spike". Instead of walking, she sort of flies and strikes against the ground. She rather puts herself into full dependency of two strings than being a totally independent walker. This is very very dark, as she is also portrayed as dark shadow against the light, also wearing a mask, her "spike" leg black, nor orange or white, pink, yellow or red. She does try - and show - bright, brightness, with a lamp illuminated leg. But she also lets us in on her view that the brightness draws an eerie undefined or blurred form of darkness - in form of nightmarish amounts of insects - and that a sharply demarcated geometrically circumscripted dark leg used as weapon and wearing a mask is maybe her preference over a bright appearance that draws blurred dark energy (insects). With that much revealing being done, she furthermore places the ideal of a weaponized prosthetic leg against the wall as a cartoonesque icon, while apparently chilling from having had sex, now with her prosthetic leg off. The attraction towards her seems to remain unexplained, with the damaged leg at the center always - so she seemed to be portrayed as "in control" at the time her leg came off but obviously things got a whole lot more complicated since then. The leg at the center, the rest actually mostly out of control.
Now, the leg is at the center, always. If anyone thought this was about anything else - empowerment, dance, motion, music - then watch this again. It is a video mainly featuring a damaged leg and some prosthetic artwork, and it dances around the projections of her views on various fears- nothing else.
Ultimately, not much that reverberates as "avant garde" remains, maybe except for the fact that the dance itself as well as the prosthetic items are carefully carried out. In masked or cartoonesque form, she uses her prosthetic "spike" as a weapon, but not as her unmasked self. Prosthetic limbs (particularly arms, hands or hooks though) have been used in the media to make the evil guys look bad for ages; rarely has the "good" side benefited from exaggerated portrayals of prosthetic performance in movies. No artistic courage is required to surf on that well established cliché - which is one I already found as dumb as a bag of hammers when "Hancock" (2008) came out. It also is not a particularly new thing to glorify that type of figure (or figurine) as it is done here in form of the small female cartoon character. Furthermore, making herself totally dependent on others - being visibly suspended by two strings - while giving up her bi-pedal stability when foregoing any type of stable foot for a "spike" also is not unknown, in terms of that being a scheme. Hell, all sorts of amputees may have the hardest time changing their bedsheets, doing dishes or laundry, or fixing themselves to be otherwise useful with ordinary tasks but we can easily fly planes, ride mountain bikes across the most daring trails, go fishing, ride motorbikes or trucks, and perform in all kinds of other sports. All that while being motivational speakers and fighting "against" "the stereotype" whatever that then is supposed to mean. The overall process then often is portrayed as "being strong and surviving". Being a "survivor of amputation" probably includes writing a book as well. That itself is some kind of stereotype, too. Last but not the least, sitting there naked after sex, with the "spike" leg removed, seems logical - but not much else. We first learn that her "spike" prosthetic leg is harmful to others, it looks and sounds harmful to others, and so we conclude that safe sex should be performed with harmful items off. So she is sitting there, after what appears to be safe sex, no one even smoking - um, alright. I am not sure where that takes us. Maybe all she wants to say, is, screw it, I never gave a damn about that leg and if I don't neither should anyone else. And yet the rest of the movie does not carry that, there is too much defensiveness going on, it's a total mess. Having a "spike" leg is interesting in a way, but wearing a non-standard arm or leg is not overly new either. We started to discolor, and differently shape, our own prostheses since a few years now, when no one else around the corner did it, and yes, it took some balls to pull that off back then. Nothing in that video, however, carries an element of empowerment or positive identification. All we see, as inter-actional element to the outwardly world, is a masked, aggressively forward violent defense, by way of a prosthetic "spike" shape that gives up some functionality in order to be so aggressive. There is nothing to be added about the sex scene as that is just bland. And sure, bespoke prosthesis. Yeah, sure. The questions are, what type of ornament and why. What color and why. And how to integrate looks with function. That's where it's at these days.
So if anything, this is a strange movie thing about fears, about counter aggression, and it has just a wee bit of fetish going on, as has now also been pointed out in detail elsewhere [link]. Others may be worse.
- Victoria Modesta is somewhat right about wearing a non-standard appearance for a prosthetic leg. Wearing a bright harmless and maybe naive prosthetic device, particularly if it looks like a standard skin colored thing, indeed tends to attract dark souls. Wearing a weaponized or at least very self assertive design indeed has the capacity to dispel these dark souls. There is some truth in that. But communicating fear is communicating fear - and both skin colored prostheses and black aggressive machine type exaggerations with pinpointed edges that then even shatter the ground both exude the same type of fear. It attracts flies, so to say, no matter what. I am also not sure this amounts to avant-garde. Too many disabled people are portrayed as victims-turned-villains in movies anyway. So she is not defying a stereotype, but going with it, all the way and further. There are fine lines between defense, authenticity and aggression, and this video does not explore that.
- Prosthetic hooks are actually great tools - also outside Viktoria Modesta's militarized mind, with which she us portraying the pinpointed razer sharp prosthetic again as a weapon. I would wish for some civil, civilized approach to the subject matter.
- Really, what many amputees want is to come across as competent. Not to frighten off others, to injure others or to bang up others. So "spikes" and black as a specific color are a bit questionable. Now, competence is clearly communicated by avoiding all incompetence in design language. Wearing ordinary shapes for hand, arm, (for some reason, I never tried this with a leg, but then, you were the person to come here, and what does the title of this blog say?) (just making sure), a full darkish red is really cool, as a color for the prosthetic. I tried out so many colors for my arm, and the red hand won, it still wins. It is not aggressive, not fearful but extremely bold and forward. It has total balls. It is friendly but very strong. Just paint it red and forget all other design details such as revolvers, swords, machine guns or spikes.
- Viktoria Modesta does undress in front of the camera, but then what. Sex is alright but what does it do here? I mean, what does it add to the assumption of her not having a healthy body in any terms, as she stated, posing nude with a mostly good looking body that conforms to all barbie doll requirements save the leg anyway? Where to we go, once we learned that we better take off our prosthetic leg - or arm - before bed time? Avant garde is different, I would recognize that in a flash and it for sure does not happen here, at least as of yet. There still exist no soft prosthetic limbs that can actually be used for intimacy - because that, that would be so totally avant-garde. Instead, they now let amputees even sleep with osseo-integrated bolts. Ouch! That would make us rethink disability, wouldn't it. Tolerating a ripped open face and neck from a darling partner that has to wear their metal bits sticking out of their arm stump ends to bed - that, yeah, that is avant-garde, maybe. Having someone maybe like Steiff come up with a romance arm, hell, that would open new domains for fullest richest selves.
- Some amputees may be after the "being a doll" thing, it seems, with all strings attached. We probably have to acknowledge that. That does not make it right for everybody else though. But it certainly is a disability stereotype - to lean back, and play a really mean pain provoking doll.