Emma Aars (she/her)
Emma Aars (1995) is a writer and artist based between Glasgow and Oslo. Her writing moves between the essayistic, the biographical, and the autofictional. Working across weaving, writing, and artist’s books, her work holds a clear attention to the visual and material aspects of writing.
Her final project, ‘Remembrances and Confessions Volume I’ concerns extended and experimental forms of translation. What do we aim to capture through translation, and what can possibly be translated? Through the format of an archival box-as-artists’ book, this project holds the experience of spending time with a book written by her ancestor, Camilla Collett (1813-1895), giving form to everything that exists in the margins, in the materiality, otherwise lost in translation.
Remembrances and Confessions Volume I
Imagine looking in
Imagine looking in through the window and imagine seeing nothing else but your own reflection in the glass, surrounded by the world around you. The trees swaying in the June wind – your baby hairs too. You might try to look yourself in the eyes but whatever is inside the contours of your body isn’t included in the reflection. Instead, the dark, clean slate of a body makes room for what is on the other side of the glass. A table and a tablecloth, a silver ashtray that should be polished soon or long ago but you will not be able to know when there is a window between you, so all you can do is guess. A vase on the table holding dead flowers or no flowers or fake flowers. Depends on whether this home has been turned into a museum. But why would you then be standing outside, looking in?
Camilla Collett (1813-1895) came into my writing in September 2022. I had just moved to Glasgow to study writing, and I came to think about her vague presence in my life. She wasn’t just a famous Norwegian figure. A writer, and a feminist – still widely known 130 years after her death for the way her words shaped the women’s movement, which led to Norwegian women’s right to vote in 1913. She is also my great-great-great-great grandmother, and the first Camilla in line of a long lineage of Camilla’s, ending with my mother. Otherwise, I knew so little about her. I knew I should know more about her. I hadn’t read any of her books like I should have – not only as part of my family heritage but as a woman.
Camilla writes in long, tortuous sentences. They last for so long that you even run out of breath when you read them on the page, quietly by yourself. Translating them makes me lost. Has it been ten seconds or two minutes or have you lost track of time altogether. It doesn’t matter, as she is still lingering with the same thought processes. I want to tag along, but her sentences go in circles and stop at the strangest places. I get the bigger picture, but like a French verb, I find it close to impossible to see who said what. Whether something was agreed upon at all, or dismissed altogether. To read her writing is like learning a new language.
I tie my shoelace in the tall grass and imagine their final curls unfolding. I have seen these plants before, earlier in spring when they were still curled up. They remind me of the marginalia at the beginning and end of each chapter in Camilla’s books, which is simply there, being pretty, saying very little about the text. Like a ribbon of silk on paper, a printed splash of perfume, enabling for something outside the words.
Maya says the marginalia in Camilla’s books reminds her of the ornamental structures on fences around the city, hunching over a garden, keeping you out. Now I see them everywhere, too. On gates along the streets, protecting the houses. Do they operate as some kind of symbolic boundary on the page, a structure for spatial thinking? They make me dream and drift away from her sticky text. Daydreams that also take me back the page, as my bus passes the fences outside Pollokshields Church with their swirling metal structures, layers of black paint peeling off, exposing rust and dust
When I was little, I believed that the world back in the days existed in black and white. A life in color wasn’t born until some time during the 20th century, as if reality followed the technological development of the world rather than the other way around. But just as much, this view reflected the idea that images of the past were accurate reflections of the world. As if a photograph was an act of stepping back into the past.
There is a photograph of Camilla in an oval frame, hanging on the wall in my grandparents’ office. It has always been an artifact of the past; Just a portrait in black and white of an old woman, dressed in old-fashioned clothes, in all ways belonging to my childhood idea of the old days. The photo is taken on one of her last birthdays, 80 years old – just a couple of years before her (my) books were published, and a couple of years before she passed away. Now, both this old portrait [her head tilted, with soft eyes looking straight at you] and her old books [with their yellowing pages and ornamental design, which I bring along with me everywhere I go] have somehow become part of the present.
Marginalia, liminality, fences
Maya says the marginalia in Camilla’s books reminds her of the ornamental structures on fences around the city, hunching over a garden, keeping you out. Now I see them everywhere, too. On gates along the streets, protecting the houses. Do they operate as some kind of symbolic boundary on the page, a structure for spatial thinking? They make me dream and drift away from her sticky text. Daydreams that also take me back the page, as my bus passes the fences outside Pollokshields Church with their swirling metal structures, layers of black paint peeling off, exposing rust and dust.
Kate says my handwriting could be a kind of marginalia. Not written to be read by anyone, but holding the value of being words before words, like a private language. I like to think of my handwriting in that way, too. Even I find it daunting to read my scribbled lines, yet they would be so naked without my hands, saying what words can’t say, swirling around mindlessly – just as my mind tends to do these days. Perhaps it is the summer, perhaps the drinking, perhaps it is love. Or is it the fear of sincerity or the imperfect words, or the directionlessness as I place my pen on paper, wishing to go in all directions at once.
Camilla, Rahel, Hannah
Where to start with Rahel? Rahel Varnhagen (1771-1833) came into the project as her name kept reappearing in Camilla’s essays. Like a person you’ve met enough times, I was starting to feel like I knew Rahel without knowing anything about her. She was a late German writer and an early feminist who existed as a ghost among Camilla’s words. As an imagined yet very real presence she seemed to be for Camilla who Camilla has become to me; an absent presence to imaginatively reflect oneself in. Eventually looking her up, I expected this woman to exist outside the scope of the internet, just as most of Camilla’s writings and old-fashioned language did. What I found was instead a biography about her written by Hannah Arendt, referred to as a biography as autobiography.
Looking at herself in Rahel’s old mirror, Camilla hoped to grasp a lingering part of this woman in her own reflection. It was beyond rationality. I find myself looking for real glimpses of her in this mirror of my own. When I discovered Hannah’s work, there was a feeling of layering, blending, and reflecting that I can’t grasp in other ways than as a hall of mirrors. Reflections reflect back on each other, holding traces of the past as you look back at yourself. Traces of Rahel appear in Hannah, as Camilla appears in me. Hannah appears in Camilla, just as Camilla appears in Rahel. Surrounded by a could of particles from the past, a grey veil of mundane stardust, the reflection of the dust holds everything that exists between the mirrors and their reflection, collapsing and rising simultaneously.