Photo credit: Sofia Dimova @ Varna, Bulgaria
Emma Rssx is a contemporary artist born in Bordeaux, France and currently based in Sofia, Bulgaria. We met at a talk she did, led by Sofia Dimova at the Sofia Underground Festival 2022 Edition (SU) founded by the art critic and activist Ruen Ruenov in 1997.
The curiosity killed the cat or... I wanted to know more about the artist herself as well as why Bulgaria was a choose for her. As we all know (I hope so) a good number of young and independent artists and professionals make a decision to move to Bulgaria for the good life and the rising number of various opportunities in the arts, culture and other sectors.
This of course is great news for the country, this creates room for cultures, behaviors and points of views to collude, so a birth can be given to a new way of thinking, consciousness and living.
Emma's academic history involves a degree in transdisciplinary bachelor across art, science, politics and linguistics and a degree in visual arts at HEAD – Genève, Switzerland. Somewhere there in the process she discovered her attention was drawn to words and language, their meanings and her passion when it comes to exploring their use.
Emma makes us think about the meaning we know language has and why we think it is right, wrong or else.
Rssx answered a few questions in depth about her practice and way of work.
In addition to that we spoke extensively about the topics of what HOME means and her discord platform for artists and communication @allosunshine
<< a space for emerging artists to gather and share about their work >> .
Well, the intro has finished, go ahead and check out the actual interview with the sweet and smart Emma Rssx!
Enjoy the read!
Photo credit: Sofia Dimova @ Varna, Bulgaria
T.D. : Where were you born, where did you study and can we hear a bit about the yourself?
E.R. : My name is Emma Rssx and I am a visual artist. I was born in Bordeaux, in the south west of France. At 18, I moved to Australia - at first to travel, then to study - and joined as an exchange student a transdisciplinary bachelor between Macquarie University and Bordeaux Montaigne Université. Only I, was mostly focused on linguistics, creative writing and astrophysics, because words and stars were what I was the most interested in at that time.
Realizing I wanted to express myself in a different field, I pursued my studies in visual arts and graduated last year from HEAD Genève in Switzerland.
My work is inspired by the variety of approaches this funny curriculum gave me. In this way, I use a lot of the methodologies of research I have acquired during my first studies, while the latter in art school gave me space to experiment with forms and mediums. My artistic practice is also nourished by the multiplicity of languages I befriended with - French, English, Mandarin, Spanish and recently Bulgarian - but also the various places I have called home - Bordeaux, Sydney, Geneva and Sofia.
Being an artist is not only a profession but a position in the world. It is a privilege and it is political as not everybody gets to have a say in this polarized, patriarchal, hegemonic system.
Working as an artist not only is about the shapes I produce or the discourse I construct but all the little bits in between. I strive to nourish interactions rooted in care and respect. The space I am given to express myself is dear to me and I cherish it with honesty.
T.D. : The language within your work. Why do you use it as a material? It’s funny to call the language a material, but also intriguing, because words, letters and sounds are something we don’t pay to much attention on daily basis, but if we look into to them more carefully and study them, their structure and foundations – the meaning can change a lot and we can get a different perspective.
Would you elaborate on this topic, please?
E.R. : I spent a long time studying language in the linguistic approach of « studying ». I now like to think of words as entities that transport meaning. I see them as these little things in space that move around carrying their bundle of sense with them. But words are also strict entities. They have definitions. Lines tracing contours around them. However, I do not believe one can draw a circle around a word and enclose completely it with a definition. This would mean, enclosing a word with another bunch of words.
T.D. : Would you share a bit more about the linguistic, mental, emotional and natural use of this material within your work, but also your understanding of it... & would you use the Bulgarian language at some point within your work?
I am fascinated with the not quite ever complete possibility of passing a word from one language to another. I am interested in all those little gaps that translation implies.
That is the reason why I often mix different languages inside a text, to create this multi-layered possibility of understanding it. In fact, if one reads a text in which not all the languages used are known, maybe the attention will be placed on the letters’ shapes, the worm-like addition of syllables that make one word a word, and maybe the sound they form together?
Words are visual, audible, fathomable. They are also emotional. As much as clay is, words are a moldable material. Language is actually a very fun medium to play with!
You asked me if I would consider using the Bulgarian language at some point in my work. Well, all I can say is that for now I am far from being able to do so! I am at this stage were I haven’t quite yet understood it. At least in a way that I can think through it and not merely find its equivalent in another language. Learning a new language is a very strange and complicated process. I temporarily lost the ability to express myself properly in English when I moved to Bulgaria. It was as if the new Bulgarian words were eating the ones already engraved in my brain. It was scary, losing the ability of expression. Or at least the one I cherish the most.
T.D. : In the pre-conversation we had a few weeks back we spoke about the topic of what HOME is. What that means to you, to me, in society and what we know to be called home. When changing locations, does that mean we change what home feels like and its own ID? Perhaps maybe the distance between places is actually home?
E.R. : Oh wow, what’s the word count for this question ? (laugh)
Actually, what’s the life count to answer this question! Home is a topic I both feel entitled to touch upon on a personal level but also obliged to address within my work. It takes a lot of space, searching for it, thinking about it, like a sort of quest. I remember a conversation I had with friend and artist Sevda Semer about living, leaving, and sometimes staying in what you call a home. I was in France, she in Sofia.
And it was just then that she made me realize that I was already talking about Bulgaria as the ‘here’ and France as the ‘there’. This wording might sound like a detail, but it reminded me how much this country was already so much a part of my present tense.
I guess the most practical way I can answer this question, of what - where - who is home, is to say that Sofia is the city I call home, now. It is the pin on the map that I feel joy finding back when I return from trips. The place that feeds me, the parks I walk into, the language I'm learning to speak. There is a hundred details in my everyday life that keep reminding me why I moved here. They come as droplets amidst all the sweat and remind me why I fell in love with Bulgaria in the first place.
Sofia is a city that has a very strong energy, and I sometimes feel entangled in her presence. Living in a city is a relationship as much as one with a person, and it comes with its load of hardships and beauty.
But maybe home is not this one thing in the middle, that has a location, a structure, a roof and walls, but all the quirky details that shape its contours. Maybe home is more of a morphing, every changing thing than a defined one. At least this is true in my life. Home is the movement of leaving and coming back. I think what makes home so valuable, so salient is the fact that a lot of the time you’re missing it. It is the impermanence of what is home that makes me appreciate where it is.
But I believe home can mean many things all at once. It can be a sensation, a place, a language. It can be a memory. A story you tell yourself. It can be people as well. And thankfully sometimes, home is also yourself.
T.D. : Moving on to the next question from the agenda, @allosunshine – discord platform for artists and communication. Can I ask how this is going and what activities do you undertake? How do you maintain it? Where do you want to go with it?
There are some projects you think about for a long time and take a while to be set up. Well,
allôsunshine wasn’t one of those. It was born at the end of September 2021 in a sort of urgency. It started as a gathering really. I had just graduated from art school, and had briefly come home to Bordeaux to prepare a group exhibition at Fabienne Levy gallery in Lausanne. I didn’t have an atelier anymore so I was just painting in my living room and contemplating the void of post-studies with the baffling return of many things after the pandemic.
I wanted to impulse the creation of a space for emerging artists to gather and share about their work. A lot of the interactions i have about my work today are with curators, art workers, gallerists, but very little with peers. I was missing the spontaneous conversations when one walks into your atelier and comment on a shape you’re working on, or drops a reference. These little interactions were the most helpful in art school. The community is what I miss the most. Sometimes, a conversation over coffee was just what you needed to get you unstuck.
I also would like to think that we can invert the tendency and replace competition with help and support. Being an artist is tough, being an emerging one even more. Allôsunshine was an answer to that as well. We have a dedicated room on discord where we publish open calls, funding applications, and give each others feedback on our artist statement and portfolios. It’s all open on the discord room so if you feel like you could be interested, please join in!
I also strongly believe that one doesn’t create alone. We create within a momentum, a generation, a scene or multiple scenes perhaps, and talking, exchanging, putting words on the work that is happening is necessary.
So this is how it all started and now we are at the 20th session or something and still going. A friend asked me to intern with the platform and we are now working on the website. We also invited collective to come and talk for the next couple of sessions and we will receive La Love Machine and Pencil bb. I think the challenge will be how to sustain it on the long run as well as opening it to a greater audience. We did a session in presence at Æther Art Space in Sofia last year and I think this is really something I'd like to pursue.
Allôsunshine is a bi-monthly online meeting. We meet on discord every 11 and 22 of each month, with a fluctuating group of emerging artists, designers, makers. Sessions can take different shapes: a studio visit, the presentation of one’s ongoing work, or specific topics like social media draining creativity or just the ups & downs of being an art worker in today’s world. Allôsunshine is open to all. You can join the platform on discord here and follow us on Instagram and our website.
T.D. : Something you’ve learnt recently? And also what are your upcoming exhibitions?
« One of the most beautiful and admirable things about you is that you wear your heart on your sleeve. » she said.
« Did you ever see your vulnerability and transparency as weakness? »
Since that question was asked live in front of people, it sort of lingered and I had to wonder. I think the vulnerability discussed here is something I would call porosity. But what is being porous, what is feeling porous and letting others know about this porosity. I’ve been asking myself this question much more lately - how porous do I want to be with the world around me. Of course it is necessary to protect oneself, but maybe protection doesn’t come in repressing one’s vulnerability.
This is definitely something I am trying to celebrate both in my life and in my work. And something I've been learning to be more aware of recently.
But as far as exhibitions, I am growing hand in hand as a human being as well as an artist, and I will actually have a very busy summer! I will be working in my atelier to prepare for my
* first solo show happening in September at Continuum in Bordeaux.
* In parallel I'll be showing some paintings at Bordeaux’s first art fair running 7-10 of July.
* I am also glad to have been selected for 66e Salon de Montrouge which will open on October 13th in Paris.
* And the two closest exhibitions to date are Summer Crush at Martin Asbæk Gallery in Copenhagen, opening 24th of June,
* Turn Back Time group exhibition in Rebonkers, Varna, opening on the 6th of July.
This last one you should keep an eye on because I can only recommend working with the team behind Rebonkers. They are full of tenacious energy and have expanding ideas for Varna and its cultural scene, and the team is 100% women, how is that?
HOW IS THAT?