Colourful Chaos: An Interview with Emma Rssx
FEATURED: Emma Rssx
WORDS: Samantha Shaw
Emma Rssx is a visual artist originally from France. Her work — spoken through painting, drawing, writing, photography and moving images — is an invitation to contemplate the intricacies of the world. To get lost amidst the chaos of her mind. To look, stare, and escape, out of time. A place where colours are made salient by the surrounding darkness, where disorder expands, untamed.
It was the stark contrast in colours that initially pulled me into Emma’s work. There’s an evident sense of movement amongst the array of little objects she paints, brought to life with every colour of the rainbow, and often set against pitch black backdrops. Emma’s work feels playful, yet distant enough to inquire. Her piece, Movement, is featured as the inside back cover spread of our Movement Issue. I’m stoked on this opportunity to lean further into Emma’s creative practice and better understand what colourful chaos means to her.
Thanks for chatting with us, Emma! How’s the start of October going for you?
Thanks for having me! I was walking down the street a few days ago and I thought “I got my mind full of unsaid things” so sitting still and reflecting for this interview is all I needed.
The past month has been quite challenging, actually! Looking back, it’s just the way my life always is. I’ve been in between homes, carrying boxes from here to there, and back again, which led me to wonder why the hell I am always in motion. I recently moved from France to Switzerland, but before that, I used to live in Sydney. It’s quite a big stretch, both in space and sentiment, and I can’t wait to start feeling at home in Geneva.
There is a room filled with sun for me to paint, fresh water to dive into, and a whole bunch of new things to learn, so in the end, I guess this is where I need to be.
What kind of art do you create?
Tell us about your relationship with art. When did it begin and how has it evolved over the years?
Art has always been something very personal for me. I was once terrified that a foreign pair of eyes could intrude in my world, and see through what I was made of. I wanted my bubble of colours to be impermeable to the world.
It took me a long long time to understand the importance of sharing my work. And it taught me a lot. I candidly thought people would see what I was seeing. Fears, dreams, emotions. Sharing it was like offering to the outside world what I consider to be the most vulnerable part of myself. But of course, things don’t work this way. I learnt that people were seeing through their own eyes what shaped their own life. It was an incredible discovery. I understood that through my colourful bits of chaos, others could reach their own storylines and be teleported back to their childhood, to feel a particular emotion or remember a book they once read. It blew me away!
But creating hasn’t always been a happy place. I have been through phases where it was extremely painful to get anything out. And sharing this struggle is very important. You easily forget about the harsh years feeling frustrated with your work. Learning how to get into this unique space that’s entirely your own is something you earn. Falling, getting back up on your feet, falling down again, and maybe then, climbing up to the next step. Even if I sometimes talk about art in a romantic way, I never forget that it is both what makes my life the toughest and most interesting place to be in.
I pulled this excerpt from your Instagram because it really resonated:
made out of
falling in love
and packing again”
Merci! Words are so important to me. They are like the colours I paint with, or the film I put inside of my camera. Entities made to be shaped and reshaped. There are so many possibilities to express oneself and impact one another. Literature is one of my greatest loves. In my recurrent periods of insomnia, I read read read until my eyes can’t function anymore. There are so many books and authors that have inspired me and continue to do so. If I had to pick a few from the back of my mind I would say Patti Smith, Virginia Woolf, and Milan Kundera.
Do you travel often? How do those experiences find their way into your work?
I grew up spending a lot of time on the road. We had a little VW with a pop up roof and travelled my whole childhood through Europe and beyond. I had quite an unconventional upbringing. I was mostly surrounded by adults, which led me to use my imagination a lot and develop a very strong sense of self.
I made souvenirs from gazing at maps and tracing our slow progression in bright yellow. I would wake up in a different environment every day — from a glamorous parking lot in Palermo, to the warmth of the Sahara in Mauritania.
These are very beautiful memories.
I remember being obsessed with collecting things. Either weird looking rocks, the lost wing of a butterfly, or a receipt written in Greek. I wanted to keep everything. Notebooks and little boxes stacked up, tracing the conundrum of my wanderings. Reflecting back, I think this is something that’s quite vivid in my drawings. I have kept a strong adoration for objects, putting them all at the same level of importance. I continue to amass an unnecessary amount of things and move from place to place, which is, let’s be honest, two things that don’t quite go together. But like a snail with its wobbling house on its back, I wouldn’t drop mine for anything.
You just did an artist residency this past June in Sofia, Bulgaria. What did that month look like for you? How did it impact you on a personal and artistic level?
Incredible. Wait, is there a stronger word I could use to say it was incredible?
I felt something very strong from the moment I arrived, and these past two months have been about exploring that feeling.
I think there are some experiences that make you realize what has been lying just below the surface for a while. But sometimes you need to live through them to contextualize them.
World of Co Artist Residency taught me the importance of the space surrounding me both in my work and in my life. At first I found it very difficult to create anything. I had to make the workspace my own. I spent the first two weeks working on small drawings of my chaos that I eventually put up on the walls. And then, while playing with fish rope and bits of wood I had collected in the forest, jigsaws fell into place. I built a mobile from found objects, branches I painted in colours, and weird looking algae made out of clay.
I worked on the notion of balance, both in stillness and in motion. And once again, art was here to show me what I strongly needed to learn.
I really fell in love with Sofia. I created a very strong bond with some of the people I met there. Sometimes you touch something that is very honest within someone. These moments are rare, and I don’t want them to just be passing bits of time, I want them to be part of my future. I don’t know when or how, but I will go back to Bulgaria. And next time, I wish to call this place home for longer.
What is one of your favourite moments/memories from your trip to Sofia?
Walking down the streets and breathing the perfume of elderflower in the air. The trees were blooming with those intricate white blobs and the all atmosphere was made out of their scent. Like evolving within a giant flower.
I’m interested in the dichotomies found in your work — the colourful matter floating in a seemingly dark abyss. What does that represent for you?
Opposition has an important role my art — and in my life. I either live extremely difficult moments or amazing ones, or a bit of both at the same time. My work has taught me to embrace these waves of emotions, and to work alongside them. To see them as a gift more than a burden.
I like to work with dualities. Particularly the dichotomy of order and disorder. The fact that they can be opposites yet still dependant on one another is, I think, very interesting. If chaos didn’t exist, what would an organized state mean? If the mess in your mind wasn’t present sometimes, how could you feel when it’s crystal clear? Exploring those questions are at the core of my work.
To me, contrast is what allows us to discern the shape of things. The darker the background of my canvas, the brighter the colours seem.
You shared the following excerpt in your initial submission for the movement issue, and I’m interested in exploring that more with you:
“In the past years, I have walked through walls of falling things. Dark ideas came bashing in my mind, piercing through my body. Today, the chaos remains, weaving its mess around my head, but I welcome it in colours.”
What does the mantra below mean to you?
“In the flow
of berserk atoms.
These words are taking me back to one of the darkest moments I have experienced in my life. Everything fell apart, and I felt as if my whole self got dismantled into the trillions of particles it was made of. I saw the atoms whizzing around, lost in space.
And then I remembered. Chaos is what I am made of. It can expand, burst and explode, but through it, within it, I remain on the ladder I often paint, either climbing up, or hanging on.
It is a mantra to remember that my body has, is and will survive to the storm.
It’s inspiring to see beauty rise from the chaos. Where do you see your art going in the next few years? You mentioned shifting from a paper-based approach to conquering more physical space. What else can you tell us about this evolution?
There is indeed a lot of three dimensional work coming. And like everything new that I get to discover, it feels like a daily dose of dopamine. I can’t say much about it yet, but this project has been in my head for a while and I’m very excited to see it materialize. I am working with new mediums, touching different types of wood, pinching different textures of clay, and learning to use my hands in new ways. It’s very exciting!
In the next few years, I would like to keep painting on giant walls and explore new surfaces, like the human body. I also hope to end up doing unexpected collaborations that will shift the way I work and approach things. A filmmaker, a choreographer, or a band would be at the top of my list. As long as I find purpose and satisfaction within my art, and feel that people resonate with it, I will keep going. And that is all I hope for the future.
Having said that, I also hope that I will in a few years look back at these words and realize with a smile that nothing went the way I thought it would. It would be the most satisfying, to have the feeling that I could have never guessed what was next.