Introducing Xoana Elias, Barcelona Collagist
/DRI:M/ARTZ: You go by the handle Cosmic Nun on Instagram. What’s the inspiration behind this quirky name?
XOANA ELIAS: About eight years ago I was living in London, had just broken up with my partner and left the house I'd been living in. I took some of my things and arranged to stay the night with friends. Whilst we were chatting about relationships and such things, with a freshly broken heart I declared that from now on, no more men in my life. That I’d be a nun, a cosmic nun, married to the universe. It came like that, and even in that cloudy moment I could tell it had a certain spark, just sounded right, fun, and well... I kept the name, even if I didn't give up men for too long.
DA: I see that you were born in Argentina then moved to Barcelona. Some would argue that the city does art and architecture the best. We toured around Spain but only managed a short stint in the city proper. How has this vibrant and open-minded Mediterranean city influenced your art?
XE: Barcelona has its magic. Since I came for holidays many years ago it’s had me hooked. I knew I wanted to live here. The city is not only inspiring,it also gives me so much material to work with. If you have your eyes wide open, there are books waiting for a home in plenty of corners. Barcelona is beautiful and has very friendly weather that definitely affects moods. But the biggest influence that it has in my art is that here I feel relaxed, I feel content... having a relaxed state of mind is possibly one of the most important things for creation.
Click to Expand
Top Panel - Freedom of Speech / Keep Protected / Jarrón
Bottom Panel - Here and Now / Hands / Whisper
DA: At the risk of sounding like a stalker, I have to confess I could find very little about you on the web. It was actually quite refreshing and made me consider the value of privacy in this information age. Your website, which only consists of your collage work and a simple contact form, had me clicking around on random bits to find a menu. Do I need to brush up on my search skills or do you prefer to keep a low-profile? Does society need to have more virtual curtains in cyberspace?
XE: I do believe we are so packed with information that it makes me consider what I really want to share. What I'm interested in is sharing my art. It’s something that I love, something that I make, my tool to communicate. All the rest I find irrelevant. Just vanity. I'm not a product to sell, so I don't want to behave like one. I’m not the one to say if society needs more curtains in cyberspace, but I suppose we all should think twice about what we care about putting onto the net, and perhaps live our lives more presently. It can be damaging to go through life with the eyes of others constantly there, looking for approval or putting value on things that don't necessarily need it. Do people need to see my face everywhere, or the things I have or my past achievements? I mean, we are always communicating, so the question is, what do I really want to say?
DA: Did you have an artistic background growing up? How much of it is what you’ve been taught? What have you learned on your own and what tools have guided you?
XE: I didn't have an artistic background growing up, but I always considered myself a curious mind and that led me to play around with different forms. As a teenager I started exploring photography and writing, two mediums of expression that have accompanied me ever since. I studied cinema for a couple of years and it was there that I realized how much I loved art direction, and I continued my studies in that area. But I'm not that keen on formal education, I think anybody can learn perfectly in their own way. It just takes interest to dig into something, and nowadays we have so many tools. For me formal titles don't mean a thing, most of what I learnt I achieved by doing. The need to express comes from very deep inside and finds its way out using whatever tools you have within reach. I enjoy the process of learning new things. At the moment I'm attempting to teach myself to play piano, which in turn enriches the ballet classes I attend, everything being connected. I started creating collages ten years ago. I first approached it as a tool to create images that would show the moods of sets I wanted to represent. And since then I’ve found myself enchanted by the form and haven't stopped.
Click to Expand
Top Panel - Intuition / The Encounter / Atravesados
Bottom Panel - Complex Relation / La Máscara Impuesta / Quite a Heavy Weight to Carry
DA: Your art is “collage manual”, as you put it, or handmade. Have you ever worked in digital format? Some collagists who work solely with paper consider themselves purists when it comes to the medium. What’re your thoughts about the analogue vs digital debate?
XE: I worked in digital many years ago, but to be honest it doesn't thrill me. The beauty of paper, the textures, the connection with the objects, the limitations...I get a kick out of it all. You have a paper cut and in that particular size, that particular colour, that type of paper and you have to work with it. To be surrounded by old books and magazines is a real pleasure. Also, being in front of a computer for too long tires me out. I think you can say that I'm quite an analogue type of person; I listen to vinyls, use a typewriter, take pictures with an analog camera and wind the clock on the kitchen wall every couple of days. It's true they are two different worlds, digital and analog, but what really matters is to be comfortable with the support you are using, so you can just focus yourself in exploring and creating.
DA: Could you tell us your approach to collage making? Is it more spontaneity or do you start with an idea in mind? Where do you source your materials? What’s your studio space like and how do you keep all the paper scraps organized?
XE: Every morning after breakfast, reading the news and occasionally meditating, I sit down to collage. Some days it starts with an idea or a cutout, on others I let my eyes roll through the magazines and books I have, and I suppose in this case my unconscious arrives first at the scene. I work with old books and magazines, mostly found in the street or in second hand shops. I'm quite optimistic with mostly everything I find in the street. I do prefer matte paper and black and white pictures, but all of them have certain potential. My studio space (which also happens to be the living room) consists of a large wooden table, comfortable chair, shelves for books and a sound system. Behind my chair rests a pretty piece of 1950s furniture that’s filled with more books, magazines, and all the tools for collaging I need. From where I sit I can reach the furniture just by turning my body around, so all in all it’s quite practical. In one of the drawers I have tins where I keep small scraps, which are organized in little plastic bags I have recycled. The larger paper scraps are kept in a big black folder. I might say I'm quite organized and usually know where each of the pieces can be found.
Click to Expand
Xoana Elias's Studio & Materials
DA: It was refreshing going through your Instagram. I feel we share a kinship in how we approach our feed and I appreciate your spontaneous approach to posting. Instead of opting for a highly curated look you mix it up a bit and showcase a range of styles. You move effortlessly between simple, graphic pieces to collage compositions that feel more like storytelling and other works that are accompanied by expressive line drawings, to give a few examples. Would you weigh in on the trend that content creators should have a consistent feed to cultivate their brand on social media? As a working artist do you struggle with the pressure to conform?
XE: The moment you worry about conforming you find yourself in trouble, and what’s worse you compromise your art. I can appreciate a curated look but what I'm most interested in is how authentic and fresh the art feels. It can be a self-made trap to limit your work to follow a concrete aesthetic.
DA: Your work elicits a wide range of emotions in me. Is there an overarching message you are trying to convey to your viewers? One particular piece that I’m drawn to is La Máscara Impuesta. Would you indulge your fans and provide some contextual framing?
XE: There is always a message, but the exciting thing with such images is that they have a limitless potential to express, and every viewer will enrich them with their own singularity. That's active communication, real and alive. I have no intention of interfering.
Click to Expand
Top Panel - All Those Present / Out of Reach / Cat Scratch
Bottom Panel - Liquid Mind / Universo Provedor / Parts of a Whole
DA: We have been facing a lot of challenges this year. How has creativity helped you during this time? What has been most inspiring to you through all of this? What do you do when you feel weighed down by it all?
XE: Indeed, we are going through a rough path at the moment but creativity is the way to get through it. I mean on a daily basis, we have to keep our minds playful and active, I'm not talking just about art, rather in all areas of life. I'm optimistic so I don't feel weighed down very often, but when I do I just try to put myself in a nice place...some music, a glass of wine, a smoke and a deep breath might do it. Meditation is a great tool to keep balance and clear busy states of mind; it does help me very much, I recommend it.
DA: I have been consuming a lot of media this past year with the pandemic. I love the post-punk electronic band Minuit Machine. Their new album is called "Don't Run From The Fire". What’s on your playlist? We would love for you to share a personal favorite with us.
XE: I love music, I spend most of the day listening to it. The first thing I do when I get out of bed in the morning is turn on the radio station Classic Catalunya. It's delightful to start the day with classical music. I have a very complete jazz collection that gets played everyday, but my taste in music is very wide, we have a nice variety of records. I would love to share with you the gorgeous Elizabeth Cotten, anything you might find by her is worth listening to... "Shake Sugaree" is one of my favorites.
DA: Last question! Do you have any big projects in the works that you would like to share with us? What can you fans look forward to in 2021 and beyond?
XE: At the moment I have some pieces exhibited, as well as t-shirts and tote bags available in a gallery called Stansa that can be visited until the end of March; I’m very happily sharing space with talented artists. I will continue with my daily post, something that I happen to enjoy very much. Other plans are difficult to confirm during these uncertain times, but I'll be here, working.
Website | Xoana Elias
Instagram | cosmic.nun
Shop | Society6