Boryana Rossa enters the space unassumingly. “My name is Boryana Rossa.” She wants to have a conversation with us about performance art, and as such, she introduces herself in a casual way. She talks about an image projected on the wall, the well-circulated photograph of Valie Export’s “Tap and Touch Cinema,” and how she’s very interested in the way that iconic images function in our memory, both collective and individual.
Rossa recontextualizes Export’s piece because she wants to know what could be different and new about the piece, also with us knowing that images edit the performance and often stand in the for the experience. She wants us to imagine the possibilities of the experience since so much of what we know about it comes from one singular image.
Like Export in the image, Rossa is wearing a box attached to her arms and chest, with an opening and curtain in the front. She invites us to come and touch her through the box, with an understanding that her anatomy is different from that of Export’s. I approach the box with my camera in hand, and Rossa asks me if I want to take a picture through the curtain. I laugh and take a picture of her facing me, then reach through the box while Rossa and I are smiling at each other. Each person who comes up to touch her either giggles nervously or has a deadpan expression or surprised one once they feel her, and Rossa kindly smiles at each person. She jokes that people are getting bored, maybe she should tell a joke, and after a few kindly exchanges, she asks us to consider deconstructing the piece. She wants to know how she should end this. People in the audience make a range of suggestions, from go into a public bathroom to start masturbating.
One person suggests we go outside and engage with people on the street. The entire crowd follows Rossa as she stands outside the gallery asking passerby if they want to touch her. Most people decline, and a few accept, with one man stating, “Now I’ll be on YouTube.” We are blocking the sidewalk at this point, so we head to the triangle median at the intersection of Division, Milwaukee and Ashland. The triangle already has some people waiting for the bus or passing time otherwise, and Rossa approaches each of them asking if they want to touch her. They all decline, many of them appearing to be nervous at the sight of the mob, with one man asking me, “What kind of reaction is she looking for?” After little success, we return to the gallery, and Rossa decides to end the piece by taking the box off.
When she takes it off, we see what everyone has already felt, her scars from a double mastectomy. We also see her belly is protruding. She reveals to us that she has recovered from breast cancer and that she is also pregnant. Just as casually as she entered, she ends the piece, and many of us express congratulations to her for becoming a mother.
RP14 performance photo by Emerson Sigman.
Rashayla Marie Brown is an interdisciplinary artist and cultural theorist. Her journey includes radio DJing, researching black British music in London and founding the family-owned graphic design company, Selah Vibe, Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia. Brown holds a BA in Sociology and African-American Studies from Yale University and a BFA in Photography from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). She has received numerous awards, including the Anna Louise Raymond Fellowship, Chicago Artist Coalition’s BOLT Residency, the Propeller Fund, and the Mellon Research Grant. She currently serves as the Director of Student Affairs for Diversity and Inclusion at SAIC.