Above: BORA performs at Signals Festival 2021. Photo by Ian Margio.
First-year Electronic Music Production & Performance student Susanna Steinfeld kicks off her series of Signals Festival 2021 artist features in an interview with French artist and Catalyst Berlin alumna BORA. Plus, scroll down to watch BORA and ROMEO & HELLION's thought provoking performance.
The Funkhaus building is still quite new to me, as are the people walking through its mile-long hallways and historic studios filled with mysterious sound-producing buttons and cables. Still, today feels different: I am not going to class. Signals Festival, Catalyst’s annual showcase exploring art and technology, has transformed the vast, somewhat empty spaces of the Funkhaus building into a lively festival venue. Booming and pulsating, it’s filled with live performances, installations, film screenings, workshops, and in-depth dialogues – all held by artists and experts emerging from the creative institute’s diverse community.
Signals Festival 2021, which took place on the 15th and 16th of October, asks whether we are heading for a utopia or a dystopia, and how art and technology can determine that direction. What is our responsibility, as a community of artists, to transform social, political, and industrial landscapes into more sustainable and inclusive spaces? And most importantly, how do we translate it into art? Avant-garde sounds resonate in the hallways; mind-blowing visuals transform our classrooms; brilliant young artists are coming together to push the boundaries of their art forms, eager to find the answers.
But before I tell you more about all of this, let me introduce myself. I am Sue, a first-year Electronic Music Production & Performance student. I was born and raised in Rome, Italy, and I am passionate about pop culture, spicy chords and harmonies, and – well, of course – electronic music. This year, at Signals Festival, I had the chance to chat with a few artists and experts about their creative processes, dive deep into their vision, and find out how the Catalyst community has forwarded their artistic journeys.
My first interview is with BORA, one of Signals Festival’s live performers – and let me tell you, it’s a conversation I shall never forget. I am glad there is video proof of this moment [above], otherwise you might not believe me. BORA, wearing flame red lipstick, a bright orange feathered hat, and a fluffy, baby-pink bathrobe, is surrounded by her live show collaborators, the performance artists known as ROMEO & HELLION (Miriama Kardosova, Jan Durina and David Certansky), who are dancing and jumping, screaming and moaning, hugging and gently stroking BORA – all while flaunting bizarre and flamboyant balaclavas. Every two minutes or so, BORA gets distracted by them, bursts out in enthusiastic laughter, and tenderly shares a hug with them. I am absolutely thrilled. The interview itself is a piece of art – an ode to freedom and sharing, honest, odd, and wildly entertaining.
BORA is a multidimensional artist and former Electronic Music Production and Performance student at Catalyst, whose practice captures sound, performance, sculpture, and paintings. Her art is an immersion into an organic process where human beings are explored, in all their bodily and mental fluctuations: the layers of their identity, their flesh, core, and unconscious. Her quest? Creating a safe space for intimacy and merely existing, for all bodies, and all emotions. And so, she gives me a glimpse into her beautiful inner world and shows me how she found her artistic voice through vulnerability.
“Your imagination is more powerful than you think – let it guide you”
When I ask BORA who her artistic parents are, she doesn’t give me an answer. Instead, she explains that she constantly draws inspiration from her surroundings and from a wide array of different artists, especially the artists she collaborates with: ROMEO & HELLION.
But most of all, BORA trusts her own imagination. Some of the characters that inspire her the most are her own creatures. She confronts them and lets them guide her in finding her own authentic expression.
“For example, the one that I created for my 3D work [video below]. They don’t exist “in the real world”, but for me they do. I consider my inspiration coming from my imagination. I see imagination as a confrontational space. Most of my inspiration comes from my daily life and the people I meet. Of course, I admire many artists but I can’t tell you how they influence me because I don’t exactly understand it. But I could say that imagination is my main inspiration.”
“Find your ‘tribe’ of like-minded people and explore all the feelings, together”
There is a lot to be learned in creating art together. Of course, one of the most difficult parts of collaboration is finding artists who are on your wavelength. But if you keep looking for the right people, you are in for a powerful chance to grow both artistically, and as a human being. BORA and ROMEO & HELLION influence each other by being together and keeping a constant stream of communication. They are “in complete acceptance of each other”. They are each other’s safe space in which they can be and express themselves without judgment or shame – the best prerequisite for truthful, honest art.
“I knew it already, but I learned again that together we are stronger. We help each other to liberate ourselves, to explore boundaries and chaos without suppressing or neglecting feelings, and most of all, with a lot of love. That is what I am striving for. We love each other, we build narratives together. That means the world to me.”
During her studies at Catalyst, she met wonderful people, some of whom changed her life, BORA says. It is an incredible opportunity and a rare gift, to share your artistic journey with your best friends.
“Vulnerability is a strength – embrace it”
Being vulnerable can be challenging at first, but it is easier if you can explore your vulnerability in a safe space. This is exactly what BORA aims to achieve through her art and performances: Creating and unravelling a safe space in which all emotions can be felt – the good, the bad, and the “ugly” (all emotions are valid, but some certainly do feel “ugly”, don’t they?). BORA sees art as a ritual, an attempt at existence itself.
“We believe that vulnerability can also be a strength. The people that attend our performance are allowed to feel everything. They can feel vulnerable, they can feel empowered. For me, the aim of this performance is not to hide anything – just to be real, to feel all the dimensions of yourself and just embrace them all.”
Even fear and anxiety! All the emotions that are considered to be “not ok”. We should express them as they are necessary, and precious in getting to know ourselves and each other.
“The more you believe in something, the more you shake things into changing”
BORA believes in a future where bodies are free to be and exist without being oppressed and neglected. But sometimes it gets hard to stay positive and believe in change when we witness homologation, objectification, and oppression on a daily basis. Art can serve as a vessel for new narratives and activism. This is the purpose of BORA’s performance at Signals: Shaping the present and projecting the future.
“We are far from being there. At the same time, I don’t want to be negative because the more you are negative, the less you believe in something, the less you shake things to change. I think we are on the way. That is why, on stage, I work a lot with bodies, with nudity, with intimacy, without censoring it, and without objectifying bodies, sexually or in any other way. It’s not about that. It’s just about naturally existing.”
“Remember you are meant to take up space”
The way to strive for this ideal in which all bodies are free to exist without judgment, and all emotions are being explored without being filtered, is to believe in it, to dream it, to confront each other, to step on stage and engage with each other.
“Personally, it has been a whole process as my body type is not considered “the norm”. For me, it is activism to go on stage and to affirm that “this is my body, it is not normative but still, it’s beautiful”. This is the message I want to convey. All bodies are meant to exist. You should make space for yourself because no one is going to give you that space. My wish is to empower others to do the same.”
BORA certainly conveyed her message – in a wild, immersive, poetic live performance that left the audience mind-blown and utterly moved by her honesty and truth. She had us thinking that maybe, after all, we do have the power to build a future that is fearless and fluid, where art is respected and recognized, uncensored, open, and embracing of diversity.