Interview with Philadephia Weekly’s Jacqueline Rupp about Explicit Female

Performance artist Zornitsa Stoyanova uses mylar to depict the female form

In Ex­pli­cit Fe­male, her in­ter­act­ive one-per­son per­form­ance that de­buts later this month, Stoy­an­ova will use the ma­ter­i­al to en­hance and re­in­ter­pret the fe­male im­age.


What do the words “fe­male form” bring to mind? 200-level fig­ure draw­ing class? Rod­in sculp­tures? That creepy second uncle de­scrib­ing his Play­boy col­lec­tion? More than likely Mylar, alu­min­um foil’s less ri­gid cous­in, the ma­ter­i­al of birth­day bal­loons and emer­gency blankets, does not pop im­me­di­ately in­to your thought bubble. That is, per­haps un­til now.

In­de­pend­ent per­form­ance artist, Zor­nitsa Stoy­an­ova uses mylar to cre­ate hy­brid art that’s part visu­al and part per­form­ance. In Ex­pli­cit Fe­male, her in­ter­act­ive one-per­son per­form­ance that de­buts later this month, Stoy­an­ova will use the ma­ter­i­al to en­hance and re­in­ter­pret the fe­male im­age.

“I’m not try­ing to shock any­one. But it is un­apo­lo­get­ic, it’s evoc­at­ive,” Stoy­an­ova ex­plains, her Bul­gari­an ac­cent firmly in tow. “If I was show­ing im­agery of real gen­italia, it wouldn’t have that ef­fect, it wouldn’t have that ef­fect of ‘Oh, I want to see this more,’ it would have the ef­fect of por­no­graphy and that’s not at all where I’m go­ing with this piece.” She says the per­form­ance will be very cas­u­al, but ex­tremely in­tim­ate. There will be no fourth wall, the audi­ence is lim­ited to 20  and Stoy­an­ova will be per­form­ing com­pletely in the nude.

This may not sound like your typ­ic­al dis­cus­sion of moth­er­hood, but for Stoy­an­ova, one of the biggest in­spir­a­tions for the piece was her preg­nancy and birth of her now two-year old son and what moth­er­hood has done to change her as both an artist and a fe­male. “I have a line about how my va­gina is sewn up like a fam­ily quilt,” she says, with all ser­i­ous­ness. “My work has al­ways been ab­stract with in­tern­al lo­gic, it’s nev­er had any­thing to do with per­sona, but this is nar­rat­ive in the sense that I do talk about what it’s like to have an ali­en take over your womb from the in­side and then come out­side of you. You know it’s you, but it’s not you. It’s your ge­net­ic ma­ter­i­al, but it’s not you, and what that feels like.”

Stoy­an­ova has lived in Phil­adelphia for 10 years. She left her home coun­try of Bul­garia when she was 20, to study at Ben­ning­ton Col­lege in Ver­mont. She came to dance later in life, in her teens and says that while she stud­ied cho­reo­graphy and sound design in col­lege, most of her paid gigs have come in the form of light­ing design jobs, a craft she nev­er ac­tu­ally form­ally stud­ied. Ar­riv­ing in Phil­adelphia right after col­lege, she met her now hus­band shortly there­after while look­ing for a room­mate and as she puts it, “Now we’re mar­ried and I am of­fi­cially a res­id­ent of the coun­try, I have a Green Card but I’m not a cit­izen. That’s the story of how I man­aged to stay in the states.”

Once in Philly, Stoy­an­ova worked primar­ily as a cho­reo­graph­er, but since the birth of her son, her me­dia has switched to a fo­cus on pho­to­graphy and film. With lim­ited re­hears­al time, squeez­ing in de­vel­op­ment ses­sions for her per­form­ance work when a babysit­ter or her hus­band was with their son, led her to be­gin tak­ing pho­tos and video to help speed the cre­at­ive pro­cess along. Ex­hib­i­tions of these pho­tos then fol­lowed and her fas­cin­a­tion with mylar grew. “What I dis­covered through tak­ing pho­tos and video, mylar is in­or­gan­ic, but the way that it re­flects—es­pe­cially the way I work with it—it cre­ates either very fe­male or very male im­agery and I don’t know why it is, but it’s so evoc­at­ive and also ex­pli­cit. It al­most is un­com­fort­ably ab­stractly ex­pli­cit. Be­cause you know you’re not see­ing a va­gina, but it’s so re­min­is­cent of it. But, when you look at it for a long time, it al­most is like a play of ima­gin­a­tion.”

Ex­pli­cit Fe­male is her first solo per­form­ance since giv­ing birth, al­though she has per­formed with sev­er­al groups, in­clud­ing im­prov dance com­pany, Graf­fito Works and Fid­get Space, where she is in res­id­ence. She says a pre­vi­ous work with the com­pany Idio­syn­crazy, which was the first time she was asked to per­form sans cloth­ing, deeply af­fected her be­liefs on nud­ity and her body. “It was not erot­ic or any­thing like that. It was ex­tremely chal­len­ging psy­cho­lo­gic­ally and was a very tough per­form­ance to watch, it was a very tough per­form­ance to per­form. There were five or six per­formers of all genders and races, and we did a lot of things in the nude that were quite dis­turb­ing. And after that ex­per­i­ence, I felt so free and like I really ques­tioned the so­cial con­struct of what it means to be fe­male and present my­self in a cer­tain way and what it means to be a nude fe­male per­form­ing, not in a sexy way, but in a re­veal­ing and per­son­al way.”

Fea­tur­ing per­son­al nar­rat­ives, cus­tom de­signed light­ing and live feed spe­cial ef­fects, Stoy­an­ova’s Ex­pli­cit Fe­male aims to ex­plore the “mys­tery of the shape­shift­ing form” that she says half of the world’s pop­u­la­tion reside in: the fe­male form. From preg­nancy to birth to moth­er­hood, Stoy­an­ova ex­am­ines the fe­male body without sen­ti­ment or the usu­al pa­ter­nal­ist­ic “won­der” that reads like a script to an ‘80s Lamaze how-to. “There’s a lot of fem­in­ist art, but I haven’t seen any­thing that dir­ectly re­sponds to moth­er­hood. Part of it is be­ing a moth­er brings you out of so­ci­ety, it can be a very lonely thing. I hope my work just brings a con­ver­sa­tion, I don’t need people to like my art. I just want for my art to bring con­ver­sa­tion.”

April 29-30, $15-$25. Fid­get Space, 1714 N. Mascher St. ex­pli­cit­fe­male.brown­pa­per­tick­


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