“When you wave the flag of your country you feel like you are really a part of something,” Francesca Fini explains as she attaches the pads of Electric Muscle Stimulation (EMS) machine to her biceps before picking up a small Italian flag. The machine causes her arm to twitch in a mechanized, agitated staccato. The affirmative gesture of national allegiance becomes both automated and denaturalized so that the very gesture of waving a flag- and all the meanings that it carries- suddenly seem bizarre.
A vinyl record, collaged with Italian words and images, spins in front of her, projected on a background screen. Fini’s style appears both garish and glamorous; she wears a classy grey dress with sky-high scarlet heels and a corset made of red duct tape. Fini portrays the gendered ideal of Italianicity with a parodic edge, her outfit hints that a more bombastic deconstruction of the plasticized feminine ideal is to come.
Fini’s arms and hands seem to become separate entities from the rest of her body, the performer strolls casually and chats with the audience about how people are jailed for doing strange things with the flag, how creative explorations of national expression is condemned. All the while, her arms flap the red, green and white blocks as precisely as the ticking of the clock.
Fini asks an audience member to help secure the EMS pads to her arms with shiny red duct tape, and another to help her open a bottle of wine. The dynamic between her and the audience is warm, comfortable and playful, she draws us in. Fini pours herself a glass and drinks it while the red splashes all over her face and dress. She puts a loud, glorious classical rendition of the Italian anthem on the record player and points the camera to her face so that it appears large on the back wall. The music immediately synchs up with her pulsing- both are part of the same patriotic heartbeat, the same nationalistic machine.
Fini begans to apply makeup, as her arms continue to pulse and shake to the beat of the music. She turns the camera towards herself. An audience member goes up to readjust the camera to face her more directly- not breaking with the flow. The unplanned intervention feels warm, natural, and fits organically with the casual, conversational tone of her presentation. At this point, the screen, which is simply the output of an average-quality webcam, evokes a certain magic. Her face, brightly lit and rendered in low-detail, becomes a sort of rapidly moving impressionist painting. In some angles is shows a ravishing beauty, some angles grotesque horror, some angles absurdity or goofiness.
In certain sublime moments the image becomes unfacelike, the images overtaken by bizarre details. The screen is filled by a shiny peach tear duct, the finger stretched eyelid, the low-forehead creases of a tense and focused demeanor. Her eyes water when she pokes them with an eyeliner, her lips become a clown-smile with the scarlet lipstick colored outside the lines. For a while, she looks like a haggard glamor queen walking home the morning after a late night, but after a while she looks bruised up and bloody. Is the a manifestation of her struggle to achieve her country’s ideal of femininity, or just a cause of clumsiness, meant to evoke the humor of aesthetic degradation? The performance wavers from funny to dark, absurd to analytical.
The camera recorded its own projection, and the screen-in-screen effect of the webcam was a beautiful detail. The image of the projection is captured by the webcam, so on the side of the projected image is the recorded projection itself. The mise-en-abyme effect suggests the infinite recursiveness of representation. Within the image is a projection of a projection of a projection. While Fini is right in front of us in front of us in flesh, blood and time, Fini’s Italian allegiance lives within one of these projected layers. The patriotic act becomes an absurd gesture, representing the low-res representation of some idea of national affiliation. Perhaps Fini’s most patriotic act is her very playfulness with these symbols; behind the irreverence seems to be a love for her country that she expresses with this energetic, thoughtful visual poetry.
Photo by Myra Rodriguez
Rosa Gaia Saunders is a video artist and writer from Canada. She works as an independent video artist, specializing in video installation and creative documentation of performance art and dance. She also works as a post-production producer for Nolan Collaborative, a boutique video editing house in River North. She acted as the director of Development for Rapid Pulse this year. Rosa also enjoys yoga, contact improv dance, creative nonfiction writing and full-bellied laughter.