Emilie Gossiaux
Featured Artist

Mistake House Magazine: As we write, your exhibition Other-Worlding is open at the Queens Museum, where you have been an artist-in-residence for the past year. In several perceptive reviews the installation and drawings have been characterized as buoyant and celebratory. Central to the exhibition is White Cane Maypole Dance, an installation in which three human-sized dog-women frolic on their back legs upon a bed of flowers, appearing to weave their colorful leashes like ribbons around a tall white maypole. Similarly, the drawings in the exhibition have a linear immediacy and uninhibited motion. Line seems to us to serve as an exuberant storytelling or mapping syntax in your way of working. Will you speak about the way in which line, both three-dimensional and two-dimensional, has a centrality in your visual vocabulary? 

Emilie Gossiaux: I am able to make my line drawings tactile by placing a rubber pad underneath my paper, which causes the line to puff up a little wherever I draw with my ballpoint pen. This allows me to feel the lines with my left hand, as I draw with my right hand. My style is very linear, and a little cartoonish. That’s because for me, lines are clearly legible, and easy to read.  

Lines become words, which become language that connects, tangles, and weaves ideas together into narratives. This is my visual language.  

My drawings are sometimes directly related to my sculptural works because they are plans for the world that I want to build. For example, my drawings, “London, Midsummer” (2022), and “Londons Dancing with Flowers” (2023) are meditations on the landscape, the shapes and forms of London’s gestures and body movements. So with these drawings, I am also choreographing my sculptures as though they are characters, and how they will all interact with each other in the space together with my audience. I also think about how my viewer’s eyes will move across the paper, or the space, and how the image or the scene will unfold before them.  

MH: As a visual artist, your process and work embodies a wide sensory range. Visual art is often stigmatized as primarily about sight, but vision includes multiple senses and various cognitive processes—insight, dreaming, imagining, visualizing. That is, to understand or perceive and then to make visual art from that perception, many aspects of the senses and mind must be used. Your work and working process seem to us to recall Susan Sontag’s famous final line in her 1964 essay Against Interpretation, “In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.” Your working process seems to result in artworks that convey to the viewer the pure joy of embodied experience and perception. Will you share your thoughts about the various ways in which artmaking is multisensory?  Perhaps another part of this question has to do with the means of paying attention, as the avant-garde composer John Cage once famously defined art. 

EG: The imagery that I pull from my mind comes from my own sense of touch as well as memories, dreams, and other people’s descriptions of the world, so in a sense my drawings and sculptures are interpretations, or translations of what I see in my mind’s eye, and I let it flow from there to my hand, either by pen to paper, or hands to clay.  

And because my relationship to material is so tactile and physical, I think my viewers get a lot of pleasure and joy from feeling the tactility rubbing and itching against their optic nerves, with a variety of textures, lending my work a desirability to touch and hold, explore and caress.  

MH: Can you describe a typical day in your studio?  

EG: I live and work in my studio, so I get to work anytime of day.  

I am a night owl, so that means slow mornings waking up with at least two cups of coffee and usually apples and peanut butter for breakfast.  

After I gather up my energy, I’ll read and respond to e-mails, then around noon or 1, depending on what I am working on at the moment, I’ll sit at my studio table, and start working on clay sculptures for hours until my body aches and I need to take a break either lying down in bed or on the couch. Listening to music helps me take my mind off the soreness in my body.  

If I’m working on drawings, I’ll sit in bed propped up by pillows and draw while drinking tea. Then around 6 in the evening, London gets her dinner, and then I’ll sit down and eat my dinner while she lays at my feet and watches me eat mine, ready to snag any morsels I might drop.  

The rest of the evening is either more writing or reflections on the work I am thinking about. Writing down my thoughts and plans is very helpful for me, especially when I’m producing new work. 

MH: Your work seems to avoid a kind of artistic self-consciousness regarding style or conceptualization or aesthetic vocabulary with which many artists struggle. It seems to be free of the pressure to be authentic because it is—it feels to us—authentic. Do you agree with this observation? And if so, could you explain or elaborate on how artmaking can be approached with freedom from self-consciousness?  

EG: At least for me, my artmaking comes from my subconscious. I am responding to my feelings at a moment in time, or the things that I hear, touch, and imagine in my mind. When I am taken over by that feeling or an urgency, I don’t resist it, and just let all of that energy build up and it streams out on paper or manifests itself in space.  

Also, I enjoy all the little funny mistakes that happens when I draw, or when I build my sculptures out of clay, everything has my touch on it, which is partly why I like to make multiples of the same thing, I feel as though I am constantly discovering new things about my work as I am making it. 

MH: Donna Haraway, the feminist philosopher (and scientist) whose ideas about inclusive interspecies relationships and collaborations have been foundational to posthuman and post-Anthropocene thought, has deeply influenced you. In your statements as in your artworks, you speak of the resonance of interdependence within your relationships, such as the one you share with your beloved dog London. This reminded us of the book, A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon in which the concept of limbic resonance is mentioned. It is defined as a symphony of mutual exchange and internal adaptation whereby two mammals become attuned to each other’s inner states,” as well as the door to communal connection” (63,64). When you speak to the important interdependent relationships you have in your life, do they speak to this quality of limbic resonance—that part of the brain system that regulates emotions? What, in your view, are the ethical and emotional benefits of the communal connection between beings, across species and contexts, with whom you are in relationships? Will you talk about how these connections carry over to your artwork and your artmaking process? 

EG: To me, bonding with another species that doesn’t communicate verbally through language has taught me a lot about empathy and patience. When I first started training with London, I felt more connected to her when I endeavored to put my mind in her’s. That way I became closer to understanding London as a being with her own emotions and thoughts and desires, a theme which I continue to explore in my drawings of her.  

I believe that animals can communicate with us telepathically, if we can build up a bond with that animal, then the lines of communication becomes easier. It sometimes feels as though London’s communicating with me through my dreams as a messenger, and our worlds blend together at night when we are both asleep.     

London to me is so much more than a Guide Dog, and I am more than just her handler, we are each other’s protector, mother, sister, schemer, etc. When London and I work together, I imagine that we become one whole organism, or a super-being, and our movements through space is like a dance, where we are leading each other and making moves together. I explore this idea in my sculpture, “True Love will Find You in the End” (2021), where two hybridized human-dog women are standing side by side and holding hand in paw, as they turn inwards and gaze affectionately at each other.    

MH: Do you find that parts of your creative process lean on these relationships and other parts require solitude?  Visual artist Jenny O’Dell writes in How to Do Nothing (2019), “…I’m suggesting…that we take a protective stance toward ourselves, each other, and whatever is left of what makes us human—including the alliances that sustain and surprise us. I’m suggesting that we protect our spaces and our time for non-instrumental, noncommercial activity and thought, for maintenance.” Would you speak to the necessary creation of time and spaces for sustaining the wholeness of self and others, including in a creative practice?  

EG: I’m not sure, but I think it’s kind of like you have to be there for yourself first, before you can be there for others. But I also read this idea as emphasizing how important it is to remove yourself from the virtual world like social media, or the news, or what’s “trendy” now, just so you can breathe, think, and be in your own little space is important to sustaining a healthy relationship with yourself as an artist. For me, it’s just as important to surround myself with a community of people and things that give me energy and fuel my creativity as it is to giving myself the space to rest and recharge when necessary.   

MH: In the book, When Elephants Weep (1994), Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy shed light onto the lack of understanding in the scientific world and in the general populace of the emotional lives that animals live. These authors write that animals are individuals and members of groups, with elaborate histories that take place in a concrete world and involve many complex emotional states. They feel throughout their lives, just as we do” (232). How have you observed this complex emotional history in your shared experience living with London? How has the shared life you have had with London as your guide and supporter translated over into the artwork you have created as a tribute to your canine friend? How has your respect for animals changed from before you had London to now?  

EG: Living and working with London has definitely changed my relationship and perspectives on nature and the animal world. Because we have such a strong emotional connection, I feel as though she has brought me closer to my own identity as a human animal. I am also a vegetarian and have been for almost 2 years. Before that, I only ate animal flesh very occasionally but after reading books like When Elephants Weep, and Sunaura Taylor’s Beasts of Burden, I felt truly transformed and found that I could no longer eat another animal. I am now so dismayed and horrified to think about how much destruction humans have caused to animal livelihoods and habitats, and how that has reshaped our environment in incredibly negative ways. I think that once we create that empathic bond with an animal, we can recognize that we share the same emotions such as joy and grief, and that we have the same desire for community and belonging. My relationship with London and reading these books have helped me realize that humans are not the center of the world, and that in many ways we are very limited in our intelligence and our perceptions compared to other non-human species.    

MH: Your 2022 exhibition, Significant Otherness, considers the interspecies relationships that are present between humanity and the other creatures of this earth. You spoke with Metal Magazine about this concept and mentioned how you often went to the canal behind your neighbor’s house to observe the small alligators. Your subject, Alligatorgirl,” was an embodiment of a part of yourself. You found that alligators embodied the feminist anger you feel within yourself. You say that the alligator became my alter-ego and how I expressed my rage against the patriarchy.” Could you talk more about how this feminist anger has been present in your creative process? And about how you navigated this patriarchal view and how has it impacted your art, both in its form and in its conceptualization? 

EG: My character, “Alligatorgirl” is a humanoid alligator with a human woman’s arms and legs, large eyes with long eyelashes, and usually has her mouth wide open to reveal her sharp fangs. When I think of alligators, I think of how far removed they are from humans and how powerful they must be for evolving and surviving for so long on this earth. When I stared into the alligator’s eyes as a little girl, either in the wild by the canal, or up close in the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, I was filled with awe at their power, and their quiet, mysterious, scaly beauty. Those memories are so powerful to me still, through my Alligatorgirls I am attempting to harness that power. I have read so many stories about alligators being killed because some man tried to wrestle one or something equally stupid and this lack of respect for animals, nature, and also women is what enrages me. Alligatorgirl is my way of rising up and striking back. 

MH: Cassie Packard, in The Brooklyn Rail (February 2024), writes, Anticipatory heartbreak haunts even the most steadfast of loves, as timelines are inevitably cleaved from one another.” Packard goes on to discuss the way in which an awareness of mourning or loss seems to permeate even the most joyous attachments and addresses the way in which unexamined hierarchies of human/dog connections parallels the unexamined hierarchies of heteronormative relationships–and tends to negate the joy and pain of heterogeneous relationships.  As we look at Dog Paw on Foot (2023, a 3-D printed ceramic from Don’t Mind if I Do, an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland) we think about the sensuous and sensual tenderness of the physical exchange between beings—a dog paw on a human foot, the kiss of a dog’s tongue on our lips, etc. Can you speak of the tenderness of these steadfast loves and about the necessity of holding inevitable loss and separation in our hearts? 

EG: I relate to the ideas and feelings Cassie speaks to in her article. I often think about London’s mortality, and the discrepancy between the life span of a large dog like her and a human’s, which is partly why I have dedicated much of my recent work to my relationship with London, to celebrate her and our love in these small intimate moments between us like “Paw on Foot” (2023), and “Fingers and Tongue” (2023).  

My piece, “Dancing with London” was conceived when I was forced to seriously consider her mortality for the first time. London was bleeding from her gums a little and so I had taken her to the animal hospital. After examining her, the Vet speculated that she might have cancer in her gums, but that they wouldn’t know for sure until they biopsied it. The week or so that it took for the biopsy results to come back was one of the lowest points of my life. The Vet had seemed so certain that it was cancer. It wasn’t just that I could lose my dog, I depend on London for far more than just companionship. She is of course an emotional support to me, but she also is a physical support and vital part of how I navigate the outside world safely. It is similar to the feeling of being a mother and child, except sometimes the roles are reversed and I have felt like I am London’s child, and she is my mother, because she can be very protective of me. I think this speaks to the complex nature of our relationship. 

MH: We have two questions about advocacy and activism, one about animals and the so-called “nonhuman world” and one about disability activism.  

Your dedication to animal (or nonhuman) advocacy can be seen in your 2022 sculpture Alligatorgirl, which highlights humanity’s negative impact on climate change and the continuous destruction of natural habitats due to deforestation and urban expansion into forests, swamps, and wetlands.  

When do you think advocacy belongs in art and when does it belong outside of it?  

What areas are most important to you to advocate for and how do you intend to keep advocating for these issues in your art?   

EG: I don’t think art and advocacy need to be separated from each other, or that they don’t belong together. In my life, I am most concerned with social, environmental, disability and animal justice issues, and so I think about how art is my life, and I want my work to communicate these strong feelings I have with my audience, because I believe art has the power to change people’s perceptions, and maybe my art can be one of the ways I can make a positive change in the world.    

MH: You spoke in your piece in Wordgathering of your experience in grad school not being able to connect to other people, both people with and without disabilities. You describe your experiences as feeling like the only disabled person in the school” which was the hardest part.” You have since made connections to other people with disabilities. How has becoming a part of the disabled community, rather than feeling alone with disabilities, helped your creative practice?  

EG: Reading, listening, and experiencing the work of disabled people has empowered me and my work as a disabled artist and it is in this community where I feel most at home, because I feel understood.   

MH: An article by Benys Delice speaks to the quality of perseverance of your character. They say that “[your] art [goes] beyond [your] own problems” and allows people to rethink “disability in general.” Having journeyed from wondering if you could create art again following your accident, to being a spokesperson for those that experience disability, can you speak to how resiliency has contributed to your artistic perspective and creation? How are you raising awareness through bridging activism and art together, and what can we be doing to help raise awareness alongside you?   

EG: I consider myself an advocate for Disabled people with my work, but I am also very tired of the narrative of my resiliency or my overcoming disability to continue making art.  

Disability is my reality, it is not something I have overcome, it is my everyday, just like being an artist has always been part of me, my disability is me, it is what fuels my practice and my interests.  

To be an ally for the disabled community, I would suggest reading books by disabled writers like Alice Wong, Amanda Cachia, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, to name a few. Teach and learn about the history of the Disability Justice movement, include Disability Studies classes in schools, and support disabled artists by acquiring their artwork and showing them in museum collections.  

MH: We watched a YouTube video in which you discuss your three-part process for describing art to people who are blind. And “Love Letter to London,” an article you wrote for Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature, includes vivid descriptions for all of the images of your work. Could you discuss the power of description for all humans, including the qualities that comprise effective description? Why is description so important and so difficult for understanding both the human experience and things that are made or happen within it? How does description relate to visual form? 

EG: I believe that description can play an important role in understanding how we perceive the world. Forming thoughts into language to verbally describe our perceptions makes us more aware of what we are experiencing in our surroundings. This state of being fully present gives way to an enhanced aesthetic experience. I think using language to describe what we see is not only helpful for me to visualize, but also for the viewer to create a deeper understanding of what they see. Taking the time to articulate their description also forces them to take the time to look more closely. 

MH: Play seems to factor heavily into your work. Several of your drawings feature anthropomorphic dogs (dog-women, woman-dogs) playing together and some of your sculptures resemble dog toys. How has play impacted your conceptual process?  Related to play, could you discuss the ways in which reverie, daydreaming, dreaming and other kinds of cognitive openness impact your work and process? 

EG: One of the things that doesn’t get talked about in terms of the disabled experience is joy, fun, play, or pleasure. It’s usually the opposite experiences that are emphasized like pain, loss, and discomfort. I want to change the narrative of that thinking through the playfulness and humor in my work, especially with my drawings and sculptures of London.    

MH: Do you ever play hooky? If you do, what is your favorite thing to do when you take off suddenly, as in a dérive? 

EG: When I take time off for myself, I’ll find an audiobook and listen to it in bed all day.