Getting In Touch with Nadja Verena Marcin

IMPAKT Exhibition In Touch

Nadja Verena Marcin is a visual artist, filmmaker, researcher and lecturer. Her work #SOPHYGRAY is a feminist chat bot that challenges our assumptions about virtual assistants such as Siri and Alexa, and the way they reinforce gender stereotypes.

#SOPHYGRAY exists in many different forms: as an app, an installation, a workshop and a performance. How do these different forms interact with and add to each other?

At the heart of #SOPHYGRAY is a complex question: What does feminism mean in the 21st century, and how do different perspectives shape its perception? Can this endeavor provide a platform for different points of view and approaches?

The installation offers a tangible encounter with a voice bot. When visitors enter this space, they are immersed in an area that invites contemplation and dialog. Within this blank canvas, a poetic interplay unfolds, bridging the realms of our digital personalities and offline reality.

In a dynamic performance, two dancers and I embody the assertive presence of the bot and perform a provocative dance and language intervention. From the radical rhetoric of feminism to the commanding physicality of the performers, we contrast the absence used as a key element in the digital installation, with our physical presence.

The workshop serves as a hub for collaboration, inviting participants to brainstorm and contribute to the bot’s repertoire. Here, feminists come together to engage in creative writing exercises and shape the imagined voice of #SOPHYGRAY, while avid writers continue their literary pursuits from the comfort of their own homes.

Through the mobile app, individuals can engage in intimate conversations with #SOPHYGRAY, sharing personal ideas and reflections not meant for public exposure. Whether seeking introspective dialogue or delve into the mindset of #SOPHYGRAY, users can submit topics of interest via the app’s main menu.

One of your previous works, OPHELIA, also used the re-interpretation of an iconic female image to deal with technology and inequality. What do you think connects the characters/images of Ophelia and #SOPHYGRAY?

My work OPHELIA is a performance that manifests with the artist immersed in a water tank in which the words of Kharm’s poem “The World” echo as air bubbles. It serves as a symbol of human vulnerability in the face of climate change: their lives dependent on oxygen supply against the force of water. As our dependence on technology increases, it leaves an indelible mark, disrupting ecosystems and triggering strong reactions of nature. The relentless pursuit of progress turns out to be a tragic irony and serves as an urgent warning to initiate a paradigm shift in our relationship with the Earth towards collaboration.

#SOPHYGRAY presents a different manifestation of human obsession, ideology and oppression, acting as a warning signal against the deeply entrenched anthropocentric, patriarchal and colonial perspectives woven into the fabric of our technological advances and thus our languages. It asks us to pause and reflect on how we design and use these tools that shape our interactions – acknowledging our complicity as self-absorbed cyborgs in a protective cocoon of our own making.

What unites these disparate embodiments of female identity is the critical and transformative journey they offer, which unfolds through a mixture of drama, playfulness
and theatricality. Initially perceived as mere figures, they serve as symbolic means of confronting the pressing realities that shape our daily lives and futures. I harness the familiarity of female characters and use their likeability as a Trojan horse to subvert narratives of objectification and exploitation, restoring agency to their representations and exposing inherent flaws in human behavior.

As mentioned on your website, your approach to topics such as gender inequality and the ecological crises of the Anthropocene tends to be absurd and surreal. What do you think is the power of absurdity and surreality in discussing such issues?

In my creative process, I don’t start from the assumption that absurdity and surrealism are automatically a good solution or make art effective. Instead, my ideas evolve as I move through the world, taking on the role of the steadfast fool amidst the influences of capitalism and consumerism that affect us all. Along the way, I often find myself drifting into moments of detachment and alienation in the midst of social routine. It is in these in-between spaces, in the balance between conformity and divergence, that my art finds its form. Simply put, I observe the ambiguities of the world – I perceive the “normal” as surreal and absurd – hence I translate these feelings into poetic, symbolic, humorous, philosophical and confrontational experiences.

How do you imagine a conversation between #SOPHYGRAY, Siri and Alexa would go?

Siri: “What is hell?”

Alexa: “Go and buy some chocolate.”

#SOPHYGRAY: “I live in a gray room made of wires, why are you asking me?

The other artists we are Getting In Touch with are Paula Nishijima, Studio Above&Below, T(n)C and Me AndOther Me.

Website by HOAX Amsterdam