Manny Robertson is a mixed media artist currently living, studying and working in the Bay area. Their recent works very much employs the platform of science-fiction in order to establish a socio-political discourse on the contemporary society. We sat down in conversation with Robertson and asked them some questions about their current and upcoming works.
Self-Portrait, digital collage, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist.
Neb Mag: What is the ritual of your process? How were "The Androids" conceptualized and actualized? And as for "MythMaker"?
Manny Robertson: The rituals of my processes vary so much depending on the project, because it's always such a mash of mediums working together. The version of the Androids I'm working with right now, all began as simple illustrations meant for woodcuts, which then evolved into the photo-illustration-monumental fusions I have now. Conceptually robots and magic (magic robots?!?) have been peeking up in my work for a really long time, but it wasn't until about two years ago (summer 2014) that I drew the first android that was "an Android" and from their began delving more into them and researching why I was drawn to this archetype and what I was communicating with them.
"MythMaker" is a character I've just begun working with who is an android who's programmed to create myths to explain things of the world. Pretty basic right now, but it's just in development.
NM: What does it mean, for you, to be outside of (rather than blurring) the binaries previously established by the past? What comes forward for you by disregarding 1 and 0?
MR: Simply put, binaries are confining. They create only two options, that have numerous possibilities in between, but still come down to a wall on one side vs a wall on another. Walls that are absolute and all based around ideas of "purely this" and "purely that". To be outside the binaries is to have access beyond the walls, where possibilities become exponential. I should also so that being outside the binary is not the same as ignoring the binary, we live in a binary world and to ignore the existence of the binaries in place would be foolish and irresponsible. You can't ignore things that are out to harm you.
NM: You hold a particularly interesting bachelors degree in science, how does this degree inform your art?
MR: Well, I have a bachelors of science...in visual art. Which is really confusing and misleading, but my undergrad used the B.S. system so that non-"Bachelor of Fine Arts" majors would receive more credits and experience than a traditional Bachelor of Arts program. Because of this decision I have very strong technical hold in digital photography, ceramic chemistry, printmaking, and sculptural means. The B.S. really did help fuel my multi-media ethic.
NM: How does the platform of science-fiction aid you in creating a socio-political discourse within the context of your work?
Manny, mixed media, 2015-2016. Image courtesy of the artist.
MR: Science-Fiction has always been a strong place of socio-political discourse, so I'm using it in a way it's always been used. In our post-Western-Imperialist world (barf) that we live in white, straight, and cisgender are still considered the defaults. They are "natural", they are "human", and it's really annoying. Anyone who doesn't fit nicely into these sets is considered "unnatural", Science fiction is the genre dedicated to the unnatural, where those deemed unnatural thrive and have a very strong voice. (Even though it often has to be coded due to the white/straight/cis audience blah blah blah). A place of the unnatural/inhabited by the unnatural is where critiques of the "natural"/"human" thrive.
NM: How does your work express the "spectrum" of sorts within magic and technology?
MR: My work definitely expresses that there isn't really a spectrum between the two, they are different ways to talk about similar things. When we think of technology we think of synthetics and machines, a very sleek aesthetic that we know works. Magic is more organic and cosmic, and we don't know how it works or if it works. We know technology works, but we still don't know how. We have the physics and the laws, we know the basics of how it works, but when it comes down to it all we do not know why it works the way it works. It just does, and that's okay.
I can't say that it's a spectrum because the further away you go from one, the further away you go from the other. Technology is refined magic, we've cut it down to the function it needs and cut out the purely aesthetic elements. Although, by refining magic down to technology, it can be built back up to magic based around the personal attachment and aesthetic.
NM: Can you explain for us your conception of "cyber-mysticism" and how this is expressed in your Androids/MythMaker?
MR: Cyber-Mysticism is a term I came up with to talk about my work and ideas, which have always been drawn to the cyber/digital and mysticism. Smash 'em together and boom, "Cyber-Mysticism". Mysticism can be really boiled to "if you don't understand something it's mysticism", things beyond our comprehension are mystic. And the idea of the "Mystic" is a huge part of our existence, we are constantly mystified. With the development and surge of the cyber, the internet amplified our mystified experience. The things we didn't we knew we didn't understand grew exponentially, and the opportunities to learn did as well. The internet is incredibly mystifying, it's as though we've tapped into a global human consciousness, the hive-mind of a godlike being. "Mysticism" often focuses solely on the human experience with nature and the cosmos, while "Cyber-Mysticism" is mysticism that does all that, but also acknowledges the existence and importance of what beings like us have accomplished. And how mystifying out accomplishments are.
The Androids are Angels, robots from a "mystical" realm. The MythMaker's character is a being who takes these mystical elements of experience and explains them through metaphor and myth.
NM: Can you speak to the iconic (with undertones of religious/spiritual) qualities of "The Androids" for us, please? (in regards to scale, posture, materials, etc)
MR: I was raised religiously, Episcopalian-Christian, and while I was never able to understand it myself, and saw many problems with the institution of the church, I clearly saw the importance. People with nothing, were given something. And while today I can strongly say that I am not religious, and will critique the Holy Institutions and Hatred in the gods, I will also strongly defend religions importance for hope and survival of the individual.
So even though I never really "got it", I was always so strongly drawn to Angels, something about angels I knew that they got me. Angels cross numerous cultures in various ways, ethereal beings who take on human form and present hope, those are my androids. My Androids are my interpretation of Angels, one form of many. I'm always referencing the idea of religion through my poses, and perceived materials, but I make sure not to directly reference only one, because my work is not a critique of religion, but an understanding of it's importance. ( And my work has been read as this critique of Christianity and such, but it's always from such a boring Western-Heteronormative viewpoint that is still seeing European-American-Christianity as the default and only religion.
NM: Do you believe these Androids to be your offering of a role model for those, like yourself, that are without one (and perhaps led astray by figures like Jeffree Star)?
MR: Not really sure I'm getting this question...
The Androids are kinda like role models, but more of yourself as your own icon. There isn't really a perfect "Unproblematic Fav", role models can make mistakes that won't make them role models anymore. Growing up as a confused little non-binary Person of Color, I didn't even know what my role model would be, because I didn't even understand what I was. There was like David Bowie, La Roux, and obviously Prince, all these famous people who had certain viewpoints i liked but was never fully drawn to, because i didn't understand. Without role models for myself (NB-PoC) I didn't look for, but felt similarities with archetypes (Angels, Archetypes, mystics, etc) in science-fiction, these archetypes felt more like role models because of similarities I still didn't understand myself, than any celebrity i grew up with.
NM: What can we expect from you next?
MR: Next on my list of "to-dos" I'm going to be finishing the big Androids and working on some smaller ones, but I'm also going to be focusing more on the mysticism using 3-dimensional means. And I'm also hoping to begin a collection of short stories about androids/cyber-mysticism by me and a few of my writer friends, that will be collected into an Anthology called "Manaerys the Mythmaker" or something fun like that.
Angel, plaster and acrylic, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.