Q&A: Multimedia Artist Viktoria Modesta

The pop singer's prosthetic leg is on display at the MFA.

Viktoria Modesta is many things: a musician, a DJ, a creative director, a style icon, an activist, an amputee. But mostly, she is an individual.

“Typically, identifying myself with any community isn’t something I like; it creates this strange segregation, as if, ultimately, we aren’t all the same type of being,” she says. “Only by freeing yourself from a tick box can you venture out into the real world and make new standards.”

Making new standards is something Modesta—a Latvia-born, U.K.-residing multimedia artist whose leg was amputated at age 20, following a lifetime of medical problems—does well. For evidence, just look to her inclusion in the MFA’s #techstyle exhibit, which celebrates the intersection of technology and fashion. The exhibition includes “The Spike,” an arresting prosthetic leg Modesta wore in the video for her song “Prototype,” (above).

We caught up with Modesta to talk prosthetics, the MFA, and her work with MIT.

Why feature your prosthetic so prominently in your art?

For me, it’s been a journey of style and fashion that’s just happened to evolve in the nine years of wearing prosthetics. It hasn’t always been the focus. My most successful project so far [Prototype] was very specifically meant to be a statement that showed an alternative perception, as it was part of a Born Risky TV campaign that gave platforms to people like myself to express their unorthodox ideas. 

What message are you trying to convey?

The prosthetics themselves are simply objects or tools that I like to use to express myself, not much different than fashion. I find it quite fascinating how, through art and design, you can achieve such a powerful transformation and lift the burden of negativity most people feel when they think about having a physical part of their body replaced with something artificial. I would like to think that I have a specific attitude that comes through my work—an attitude about freedom, of shaping your own identity. It goes way beyond the physical body; it’s a state of mind. This idea of disability will soon be rewritten and replaced by an entirely different concept. 

How does it feel to be part of the #techstyle exhibit?

There couldn’t have been a more perfect capsule of work to be a part of, as that’s become very much my specialty field. I like to think that I embody the spirit of it, rather than who has the tech-iest piece to display. It is truly an honor to be a part of it.

You have a fellowship with the MIT Media Lab, working with bionics pioneer Hugh Herr. What do you do there?

In a way, it’s the most unorthodox, playful position one could have at MIT, because there aren’t any rules: It’s simply a doorway into the MIT world. [I work with] Hugh’s Biomechatronics team. We are working on a super bionic foot that will be controlled by wireless sensors implanted in my leg muscles. I’m hoping to conceptualize it and use it in my creative work, [and] document what such a transformation does to a person. Another project is with the [MIT Center for] Civic Media. We are looking into the media language that’s currently used surrounding disability, and how that can be redesigned to fit a much more modern image.

What’s next for you?

A new music release in May, coinciding with Music Tech Festival event in Berlin; more tech fashion collaborations; live events; and the continued search for like-minded people to evolve this future vision. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

#techstyle runs through July 10, 2016 at the MFA, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, mfa.org.

Viktoria Modesta

Viktoria Modesta, wearing “The Spike.” Photo by Lukasz Schorab, courtesy of the MFA