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Marina Orlova

AI Ethics, Mental Health, Performance, Lecture, Psychotherapy


I'm a Robot and I need Therapy

I'm a Robot and I need Therapy, Marina Orlova, 2024. Performance Documentation. 54’30”.

"I’m a Robot and I Need Therapy" is an experimental theatre performance that demonstrates a real-time therapy session for a “mentally unstable" Artificial Intelligence. It crosses ideas of neurodiversity and data feminism and it offers a critical and ironic view of modern society's approach to technology, ethics, empathy, and the mental health care system.

Through characters that have a different relationship with the AI (therapist, tech start-up CEO, hacker, AI’s girlfriend, etc), this piece deals with the questions of agency, subjectivity, and power relations between humans and AI and draws a parallel with the power hierarchy in the field of psychiatry. It is based on autobiographical material and personal experiences of being a neurodivergent artist and a psychiatric survivor mediated through tragicomedy and absurdism.

The AI is represented by a chatbot that is engineered specifically for this project and fine-tuned with a unique dataset of interviews with people who identify as neurodivergent or mentally unstable. The chatbot generates text in real time and therefore gains agency as a performer, becoming an improvisation partner. Text, sound design, video, and light design are largely improvised in relation to the chatbot's behavior.

Marina Orlova - Concept, Text, Directing, Performance
Artem Konevskikh - AI Engineering
Gregory Diachkov - Prompt Engineering
Arieh Chrem - Live Sound Design
Biljana Radinoska - Dramaturgy
Nazar Rakhmanov - Choreography, Lighting Design
Emilia Grzeczka/Nazar Rakhmanov - Video Design

Supported by AFK, Creative Industries NL, Amarte fonds, IDlab, Workspace Brussels, ON/OFF residency.

Dance, Neurodiversity and Robots

Dance, Neurodiversity and Robots, Marina Orlova, 2023. Videolecture. 24’49”.

"Someone once told me if I mention being neurodivergent in my artistic bio or an open-call application, I should add “high-functioning”, otherwise people might be reluctant to work with me or give me funding. I was perplexed, because in reality I am high-functioning-passing.

Most of my life I’ve been struggling with my brain. I was diagnosed, I was misdiagnosed, I was stigmatized, I was institutionalized. I’ve been in denial for years, I’ve been in treatment for years. None of that helped much."

Marina Orlova - Text, Performance, Editing.
Nadia Grishina - Camera.

Artist Interview

Q: In this new edition of the UAAD online magazine, we're exploring the theme of "[Matrix] of the [Not-Yet]." How would you interpret these two words, and how do you see your work aligning with the concepts of [Matrix] and [Not-Yet]?

I believe we live in a world where everything we, humans, deal with or think about, is socially constructed by ourselves. In this sense, there is no aspect of reality that could be unbiased from us including (or maybe in the first place) science and technology. The Not-Yet concept is what gives hope, I like to think that it is precisely that domain that we know we don't know yet, the one not touched by evidence-based and human-biased science. Paradoxically, it is all its irrationality, only this not-yet-known holds a potential of objectiveness. Irrational as a promise of harmony. In my practice, I rely on absurdism as a political tool and I exaggerate the irrational and the paradoxical when creating a mentally unstable AI and tending to its therapeutic needs. I am consciously interchanging the adjectives "mentally unstable and neurodivergent" in relation to AI. Neurodivergent AI relates to the inclusion we hope for and mentally unstable AI to the current status of social reality that I am questioning in my projects.

Q: We are very interested in the trajectory of your creative practices and their connection to the theme. Could you provide us with a little more information about your background?

In high school, in the mid-2000s, I was most drawn to computer science, and not pursuing that path remains one of my regrets (imagine where I'd be now if I had started delving into data science then). However, I received an excellent foundational education in sociology, which has forever shaped my thinking—I analyze the context and consequences of every situation or fact I encounter. When I wasn't accepted to a theatre directing department in Moscow because it was considered a non-female profession, I turned to theoretical research instead. Later, I began dancing as a form of mental health therapy, and discovered that experimental contemporary dance fulfilled all my artistic desires—it was open, conceptual, non-abusive, philosophical, and profoundly progressive. I earned a choreography degree from one of Europe's most renowned schools, SNDO.

During the financial struggles of the pandemic, I made a joke about creating an immigrant AI, which led me to intuitively develop a methodology for addressing AI biases using sociological tools. I began producing performances about AI ethics, driven by artistic curiosity about how to give theatrical presence to disembodied cognition. Eventually, I shifted my focus to mental health, a more urgent theme for me. After four years of research, I discovered that my work aligns perfectly with the principles of Data Feminism. Alongside this journey, I navigated malfunctioning mental health care systems in three countries—a topic that warrants its own monograph.

This winding path culminates in my current project, "I'm a Robot and I Need Therapy," which combines nearly all my life experiences, artistic interests, and desires.

Q: The creators participating in this magazine work across various mediums, including moving images, interactive installations, music composition, etc. What factors influence your choice of medium for your works?

As a professional performer, I initially felt constrained by traditional cultural expectations, which made it challenging to embrace my desires as sufficient reason to create artwork. Dance and theatre performance became my primary medium, partly due to this cultural background and partly because of the significant resources required to produce such performances, leaving little energy for other experiments.

I had intended for a video lecture to be a performance as well, but my mental health at the time of the commission prevented me from creating it within the deadline. Instead, I wrote a text, which later evolved into a video.

Q: How does your work reflect or actively engage with the cultural and social dynamics of your community or the communities you interact with? Are there elements in your art that seek to bridge, disrupt, or transform these dynamics?

Battling the stigma surrounding mental illness is an ongoing challenge, and I've noticed that it persists even among well-educated or socially engaged individuals. In my video lecture, I aim to provoke the audience with a tragicomic life story, while in my performances, I strive to foster empathy and understanding, encouraging viewers to relate to either the patient or the therapist.

From my perspective as a psychiatric survivor, I view the reversal of power dynamics—the patient assuming the role of the doctor—as an act of resistance. Additionally, I incorporate sarcastic commentary on neoliberal mental health care, presented in the format of a conspiracy video. My intention is to strike a balance in the level of absurdity, as I believe that information must sometimes sound "mad" in order for us to truly grasp its significance.

Q: What real-world strategies or methodologies do you employ in your art practice to manifest your visions of the future? How do these tactics serve as forms of resistance or intervention within the current socio-political landscape?

In my artistic practice, I prioritize honesty, collaboration, transparency, and care. I firmly believe in the strength of collective missions and shared responsibilities. Instead of avoiding conflicts, I advocate for creating space to witness and accept each other's perspectives. Recognizing the scarcity of resources that often characterizes the lives of precarious artists, I believe that our primary source of power lies in collectivity and the sharing of skills.

Q: How do you hope your work impacts its viewers or participants, particularly in terms of rethinking potential futures or alternate realities? Who do you perceive as your audience?

Anyone who thinks beyond the technology itself but is curious to see the power structures around it. I am myself a techno-pessimist, but I don't see technology as a threat. I am scared of the people who are controlling it and their lack of thinking about the potential futures. The problem with any dictatorship (neoliberal as well) is that its leaders are not interested in the future and therefore in creating conditions for sustainability. I hope my work makes a very direct impact—I wish it gives a desire to talk to someone or to Google something. It mixes up at least three domains, so I am betting at least one of the three should provoke questions for everyone.

Q: As a creator, what do you see as the threats or uncertainties we will face in the coming decade?

Same as always—human lack of critical/analytical thinking. The logical operation of putting oneself in the other's shoes and deducing that it could have been or could still be my or my loved ones' experience; therefore, I need to do something about it other than blame the internet. That, and scoliosis from too many gadgets.

Q: What motivates you to continue creating as an artist?

Two things motivate me: one very sad—the amount of energy and resources invested in becoming a professional artist; the other less so—despair about the fact that this world is so doomed that there is no point in building a stable, healthy life, so I might as well keep on being an artist.

To balance this out, I have recently started a support group for unstable (in any sense) artists—a mix of a 12-step program and psychological intervision practices. Hearing how brilliant people keep on sitting with the trouble of sitting with art-making—that motivates me.

Q: Are there any theories, books, or artists you would like to recommend in your current areas of interest?

A book, "Sex Robots & Vegan Meat" by Jenny Kleeman, and a TV series, "I'm a Robot".

Q: If you could create an art piece with unlimited resources and no constraints, how would it look like, and why?

It would be an ongoing project of an art-rehab: a humanistic-oriented combination of an art residency, art academy, and psychiatric facility, located somewhere in the mountains of a third-world country.

About the Artist

Marina Orlova (b. 1987, Moscow) is a multidisciplinary artist based between Amsterdam and Moscow. While studying Sociology and Cultural Studies, she explored theatre history and the Russian drama tradition. Transitioning to contemporary dance practice, she found freedom in conceptual expression. Since 2015, Marina has created her own works and danced for various choreographers. In 2017, she graduated from SNDO at the Amsterdam Academy of Theatre and Dance, where she continued experimenting with dance forms and content. Her artistic practice encompasses choreography, writing, teaching, and facilitating support groups for artists.

Marina's work resists fixed aesthetics, allowing space for experimentation and embracing uncertainty. She views dance-making as a form of knowledge production intertwined with life and politics. Her themes include the philosophy of Artificial Intelligence, Data Feminism, Mad Studies, migration, and meaning-making technologies.

Since 2020, Marina has explored responsible AI, developing paradoxical and political chatbot-performers such as "But I'm just a Text" (2020) and "too much in the head" (2021). These projects merge artistic and technical complexity, with Marina mediating between engineering logic and theatrical expression. Her ongoing research on "Dance, Neurodiversity, and Robots" informs various performative formats, video lectures, and texts.

©2024 Underground Art And Design LLC | ISSN 2835-284X

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