An interview with artist Elsa Rouy, published by Coeval Magazine on 25 March 2021. With paintings that are quick to test the anodyne, Elsa Rouy is an artist unafraid to explore the more prurient aspects of our bodily functions and relationships.
Currently studying at Camberwell College of Arts in London, her work has a unique penchant for transgression — using erotica and humour as a means to explore how we embody contradictory feelings of shame, pleasure and codependency.
Elsa’s work is fierce and provocative: adroygnous subjects embrace and exchange fluids, groping wildly and gazing at one another in torrential frenzy. It is a monstrous language of venous and opaline flows, a miasma of mutual deformation that splinters any sense of a solid or fixed identity.
Fresh off the back of their debut solo show in London, Plastic Doesn’t Sweat, the interviewed focused on her taste for the voyeuristic, the inevitability of death and why she’s proud for her art to be called “disgusting.”
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“Charlie Mills: Bodily fluids — especially their exchange and co-contamination — are a central axis in your work. The last year has seen an increased fear — a near phobia of this exchange. How has our changing relationship to the body during the pandemic affected how your work?
Elsa Rouy: To me, bodily fluids are the connection to being human as we all have the potential to produce them. I think they also relate to the idea of mortality, our need to hide them partially stems from them being a reminder that we will inevitably die. For this reason, I find the increased fear quite interesting, especially being someone who is a bit of a hypochondriac — having previously suffered from extreme fear and anxiety of falling ill. Bodily fluids during the pandemic have become the embodiment of potential death, so I think it caused an even stronger taboo around them as they are now seen as contaminants. Saying this, I have found the pandemic fairly cathartic for dealing with this anxiety. Personally, I was already terrified of the idea of a foreign body entering my body. It’s a boundary thing — a disruption of our perfect self, much like an intrusive thought. I think this is evident in my artwork.
CM: Your paintings are filled with androgynous erotica, the gaze and the abject — they are also expressions of a child-like dependency and liberation. There are gushes of milk from the breast, flows of red blood cells modulating the placenta, jets of sperm sucked in by the womb. What informs this set of motifs in your work?
ER: It mainly stems from my interest in internality and exteriors and the crossing and distortion of the two. The spouts of fluid coming out and going in are breakings of a surface. For me, there’s an emotional significance that coincides with the imagery of expulsions and intrusions. Mainly centred around feelings of shame and guilt and the releases or harbouring of these. I used to use erotica to transgress certain emotions in a way that can be visually understood by an audience, however, now it is much more to do with relaying thoughts that I have had or ways that I have viewed myself. I like to keep the figures fairly androgynous so that they are to an extent, genderless and can be representative of anyone regardless of gender. Recently I have started to depart from this. I am consciously painting women that can be seen as monstrous and violent to relay my personal relationship with myself. I try to form an affinity to the parts of myself that are potentially not acceptable in western society. I have also started to use the imagery as a critique and subversion of mainstream representations of women throughout history, without apology.”