“No, stop! Do not say another word! I think – just play the video. Just watch.”
Fiorenza Floraline Menini is, perhaps fairly, territorial over her art. She takes time and care to articulate herself, both before her performances and during a Q&A session which follows, even when this means cutting off the introduction to her film viewing.
Menini’s art ranges from photography to poetry, and as part of her performance tour of the UK, we view her film Les Attractions Contraires after she reads her poem Pourquoi je n’aime pas Francis Bacon. She apologises afterwards: “I feel like it’s… A lot this evening!” And while we have certainly heard some raw autobiography, and her film ends with a note to HIV victims, the entire experience seems more delicate than ‘a lot’ or too much. I ask her if she feels feminine as an artist. Does it make a difference to her work that she is a woman?
“What is beautiful is when you talk about fragility, poetry, it’s ‘feminine’. Like it’s weak. And I think there is nothing more strong than fragility… What’s the most fragile in our bodies? Skin. It’s super fragile, but skin is also extendable, and it can repair very quickly.” Menini is entrancing to speak to as she expresses her ideas of humanity, poetry, fragility. Fragility in particular comes up a lot; she claims it’s central to forming the poetry necessary for resistance in today’s society. “The only thing we can say, with certainty, that we share, is suffering.” Later, she describes how humans treat themselves with brutality. “It’s like taking armour [she mimes a hammer] to your iPad or a complex machine – that’s what we are doing to ourselves! Why?!”
On her website, one can see the strands of resistance she talks about so fervently (and fondly): a photograph of a small child’s dress, lifted at the front, is accompanied by the words ‘I DON’T LIKE DAVID HAMILTON.’ It is difficult to look at. She tells me of the photo, “Other artists at the time, they looked away and try to ignore things like this. Same with #MeToo, with ‘Time’s Up’. I had to say something.”
Links are made continually in her performance and talk between the “big things in life” (“Poets change the government! And history!”) and the small. I am particularly enraptured by her comments on poetic moments. “Moments like in the morning when you’re staring at the water turning, spinning, in a cup of tea or coffee… And this moment of attention when you’re just contemplating… For me, this is the source of a poetic moment. It is only if you capture it, if you take it back for yourself, consciously, that you make it a poetic moment. If not, it’s just time passing. This activity of recapturing our poetic inner source, our poetic possibility, is fundamental and is an act of resistance.” Speech beautiful enough to make any amateur or professional pick up a pen…
And that’s her other overarching sentiment: a will for changing the perception of art. It is, she insists to the quiet audience, accessible to all, and that is crucial. “Everybody can do it. People say ‘Oh, I cannot do anything like this by myself’, but it’s the opposite: you can, really, and we have to start now to reconquer our humanity. And redefine our humanity. We are the only ones who can do it; we cannot expect other people to do it for us.”
The evening is contemplative and her answers to questions feed as many new questions as her pieces of art themselves. To end, an audience member asks if she considers herself a story-teller. Her response sums up beautifully her “art-is-for-everybody” approach: “Why not?”