By BWV reporter Suzi Bratt
Stepping into the reading room at the Arnolfini on Wednesday instantly took me back to circle time at school. I deposited my bag and my shoes at the side of the room before quietly padding through the space to find a comfortable patch of soft, white fur. Residing in the gallery was a mysterious creature I came to know as Fluffy, scientifically known as ‘flufiella chimaerica’. Fluffy is the creation of Greek artist Antigoni Tsagkaropoulou, visiting the Arnolfini for her UK premiere after a year long residency in Athens. Fluffy takes up a lot of space in the room, draping themselves languidly over shelves and inviting guests to recline on their sea of white fur.
Unlike school, the literature around the room (stacked on shelves and softly embraced by the latex creations that littered the floor) dealt with a variety of topics positively exploring identity and gender and art. Some of my favourite reads of the evening were a funny and illuminative zine called ‘OMG Lesbians’ by Athenian artist Smar Makes Comics and ‘Nouns’, a book of poetry and definitions by Margarita Athanasiou. The writing was humorous and sweet and I managed to get through a good chunk of both books before the lilting tones of a xylophone awoke me to my surroundings.
If I were to explain the evening’s performance in three words I would say it was weird, raw and enlightening. Leaning against one of Fluffy’s furry mounds, surrounded by strangers also reclining in the space, I listened to Tsagkaropoulou read about the characters in her own fairytale whilst she sat beside me, one foot encased in the towering heights of a platform shoe, the other in a mermaid tail made of latex and fur. I wondered which I might identify with, the Dragon Princess? The Cyborg? This idea of the ‘other’ permeated the evening, exploring difficult concepts through personal rhetoric. The immersive performance was playful and odd, a good combination when dealing with such huge and sometimes divisive topics. In some ways it felt purposefully unpolished, left raw and accessible for the audience.
After Tsagkaropoulou‘s storytime, she and fellow artist Lykourgos Porfyris, aka POP Tektonism shared a moving conversation about the harrowing death of Greek LGBTQIA+ Activist Zak Kostopoulos, an event that sparked protests in many Greek cities, highlighting the issue of violence against marginalised groups. More information can be found about the incident at the end of this article. Needless to say it was both moving and eye opening, an insight into the cultural context that birthed a beautiful monster like Fluffy.
POP Tektonism then took the floor with their story Vulnerable Monsters, an autobiographical, audiovisual fairytale of the White Little Thingy who became a Pink Cockatoo Parrot. The story deals with issues surrounding sexuality, disability, gender and the monster identity, conveyed through spoken word storytelling, illustration and music. It felt like a rare experience to hear such a personal, honest and difficult story, especially whilst wrapped up in Fluffy’s tender embrace. I came away considering both my own monster identity and our cultural dependance on the idea of ‘normality’. Stories like these deserve to be heard, yet they so often lost and ignored, or worse, their tellers suffer the same treatment as Zak Kostopoulos. At the end of the day, we are all human. We learn and change and grow as time passes and I feel hopeful that our evolution will lead us to a place where the idea of ‘normal’ is no longer necessary and we celebrate each other for all that we are, but it seems we still have a long way to go. Maybe we could all benefit from learning some of Fluffy’s radical tenderness and embracing our monstrous identities.
Leaving the Fluffy Library felt like being birthed from a world of colourful latex, white fur and warm acceptance into the harsh daylight of reality. I immediately wanted to return, lay my head on a furry appendage and let the bass heavy sounds of POP Tektonism permeate my mind.
The Arnolfini reading room is free to attend and Fluffy will be residing there until the 11th August 2019, I suggest you pay them a visit.