I was already at the cafe when Mia arrived. I had seen photos of her, but still I wasn’t prepared for the impact she makes when she enters a room. With her thick, black bob cut hair against the pale, white of her skin, her slender figure, shocking red lipstick and bright red shoes, and the ostentatious faux fur coat, she was certainly attractive enough to command attention.
But there was something else about her: the dance of her eyes and the way she looked around the room, the way she instantly assessed everyone and everything in it. It made you want to know what was going on inside her head and, thankfully, that was what I was here for.
“Mia,” I said, “Pleased to meet you. I’m Rosie.”
I held out a hand and Mia took it gently. It was barely a handshake and I was petrified I would damage her slender fingers if I gripped them too tightly. I gestured for Mia to take the high stool beside me. I didn’t want the table to act as a barrier between us. She took another look around the room, as if she were worried about something, and then slid onto the seat.
“Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Mia. I know that your relationship with journalists hasn’t always been a good one.”
Mia gave a half smile, but said nothing. I continued.
“And I’m sure many of my readers will already know your name and some of your work but I’d really like to hear you describe it in your own words.”
Mia pursed her full, red lips and then spoke deliberately and with a rehearsed answer.
“I create art that challenges how people think about the human body,” she said. Her eyes remained fixed on mine.
“And, specifically, through nudity?” I had to prompt her to say more.
“It would be fashion design otherwise,” she replied scornfully, but I knew why she was being defensive: she had gotten mostly tabloid press coverage that belittled what she was doing at the expense of sensationalism and the license to print semi-nude photos with “censored” banners plastered over them.
“One cannot appreciate music without hearing it; and likewise one cannot understand performance visual art without seeing it,” she continued.
I smiled and nodded. I wanted her to believe I was on her side, which I genuinely was.
“You’ve taken your art all around the world, or at least those countries that are… open minded enough to welcome it. But you’ve chosen to make here in Madrid your home. Tell me a bit about how that came about?”
For a moment it looked as though Mia’s defences had dropped a little. I was right not just to go for the easy angle and to find out more about her first. I worried that the spell might be broken as the waiter interrupted us and Mia ordered a coffee, but she settled back into her stool and seemed relaxed.
“Artists like me are, I think, naturally nomadic, and we find our homes wherever we produce our best work. Growing up in Finland, we had quite a comfortable existence, but for me there was less of a challenge.” She looked around the café again. “Here in Spain, I am able to reach much of Europe easily, and the culture and climate suit me. And, there are more days each year where we can take photographs. In Finland it’s either always light or always dark.” She smiled.
“And do you think it’s your Finish upbringing that made you personally so comfortable with nudity?”
Mia visibly bristled at my turning to the subject so quickly. “There are over five million people in Finland. I don’t believe all of them have become performance artists,” she replied brusquely.
Her eyes seemed to bore into me and I had to look down at my coffee. “Plus, as you say, the climate’s better here. I mean, for what you do,” I continued without meeting her challenge. I glanced up and thought I caught the beginnings of a smile on her lips.
“Spain is a very tolerant society too and with a great artistic history,” she replied, “But who knows whether I will be here in one year, five years, ten years… But for now, I am here.”
Her replies weren’t going to give me much to work with so I looked down at my notepad of pre-prepared questions.
“And how do you find the people here react to your work?” I asked her.
She shrugged. “That is the point of my work: to explore this. It is better to learn this from my work than to ask me for an answer. If I had an answer, I would stop the work.”
So that was another dead end. I decided to go back to try to build a relationship again, and to think more carefully about the questions I asked.
“Do you think… Do you mind if we ordered some tapas?” I asked Mia.
Her shoulders shrugged beneath the thick coat. “Why not,” she said, “This café has a good selection.”
She looked around the room with her strange manner again. She was like a bird, watchful for predators perhaps, and her eyes seemed to rest on each other customer for a fraction of a second before dismissing them as a threat.
I turned around in my stool to look for a waiter and put my hand in the air to attract his attention. I had lost some of my English reserve during my time as a journalist, but, as was to become apparent, not as much as I thought.
I must have been looking away from Mia for no more than two or three seconds but by the time I turned back the fur coat was gone and I was suddenly in the presence of Mia the performance artist. Or, more precisely, Mia the naked performance artist.
I wasn’t sure what the etiquette was, so I said nothing. I was incapable of saying anything as she sat there, seemingly oblivious to her nudity, not even paying attention to how I reacted.
I had seen plenty of photos and videos during my research for this interview but, in the flesh, it was obvious what a truly beautiful woman Mia was. Her skin was a delightful soft cream colour and appeared flawless, although I was trying hard not to stare. There was barely an inch of fat on her and, as she sat with her legs crossed, I wondered if I was just imagining the whole thing.