Florence Welch is a lead singer of a British alternative band Florence & the Machine. A visual artist in her own right, it is so fascinating to see how her musicology draws undeniable parallels from many modernist artists such as Picasso or Brecht. Quiet exemplary of the historicity of her name, Florence Welch has dedicated, consciously I believe, the visuality of her music to an aesthetic movement that demands its patrons to be participative in the thinking process.
The first parallel can be drawn from the Brechtian theatre and its idea of alienation that is reflective in Florence’s recent album. The viewers of Brecht’s plays might be aware of his style of alienating the actor from the character he or she plays in order to provide its objective understating to the audience. Brecht divorces the auratic presence from the character by dehumanising it and presenting it as a fictional representation of a human form and not the human being himself. In addition to this, the elaborate changing of props and unrealistic construction of the set provides further agency to the audience to think and view the drama as a work of art and not as an extension of their own lives.
We can see the traces of same artistry in almost all the chapters of How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. In What Kind of Man, Florence divorces her actual conduct from the melancholy she was subjected to by representing that melancholy in a metaphorically exaggerated manner. This shows her act of divorcing actor from the character which gets further crystallised in Saint Jude where you can see her following her own self as if to be a spectator to her own story. This is a very interesting modernist trait in all the subsequent videos from the album particularly matured in Delilah. This also takes me to the second parallel which is drawn from legendary Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov. Vertov in his landmark film Man With The Moving Camera successfully endeavoured to portray the revolutionary potential of cinema. In that movie, Vertov places one of the faces exactly at the eye level of the audience so as to make them believe that they are being spectators of their own authority. By doing this, Vertov not only tried to democratise the art of filmmaking but also tried to make movies a mode of communication emancipated from theatrical melodrama and understood universally beyond the limits of language. In the video of Delilah, Florence has not only shown us the story of her self destructive wreck but has also made us participate in it by placing ourselves in the position of ‘shadow Florence’ that is shown as an unnoticed and objective viewer of all the miseries that the protagonist is suffering from. Moreover, the use of heavy imagery and the strong use of symbols makes it a video that can be understood beyond the limits of language. The casualty and simplicity of the protagonist’s dressing is quite reflective of the divorcing of the narrative from theatrical melodrama. When it comes to the use of imagery, Florence shows her genius in Queen of Peace. The symbolism of deserted island, rising and retreating waves, and her hand held high, the video makes Vertov proud by liberating emotions from the mercy of language. Every frame of that video has been left for the viewer to decipher and then interpret.
Apart from Vertov and Brecht, we can also see Picasso’s abstractness in many of Florence’s works namely Dog Days Are Over, Spectrum and Never Let Me Go. The Picasso style of looking at art from the perspective of its properties is quite evident in the geometries of the choreography of Dog Days Are Over. The principal focus on colors, shapes and symbols takes away the deceptive realism from the video and shows rebel in the free flowing riot of everything that art consists of. Well, precisely how rebel should look like.
Florence Welch has always itched a peculiar form of sensation among her patrons. That’s precisely the reason why she appears to be “alternative” in the large sea of popular culture. The heavy use of imagery and class apart metaphorical finesse puts Florence at the supreme rungs of contemporary visual artists. With a voice that is drenched in soulfulness, Florence & the Machine have continued to democratise discourses on art by just being the catalyst between videos as a form of representation and her music being the object of such representation. It is this artistry of celebrating art as representation and not as reality itself is precisely the reason why I would call Florence a modernist.