I first met Montreal-based artist Florencia Sosa Rey on a Google Meets call that spanned the distance of the Americas. While I sat at my desk in Montreal, Sosa Rey called from Argentina, on a trip that began with an intense residency in September, but evolved into an exploration of her Argentinian heritage. Though I could only engage with a cropped image of her face and background, Sosa Rey’s energy and passion for performance art transcended the thousands of miles that separated us. As an artist she describes herself as someone who “likes to create spaces for people to come together despite whatever distance separates them, whether that be physically, or generationally, because we care for each other.” This desire underlies her performances and conceptual works, as Sosa Rey gives people outside the art world the ability to participate in art and explore all that it can offer.
As a child of two Argentinian immigrants, Sosa Rey often returns to themes of migration, movement, and transformation in her work. This autumn, she returned to her grandfather’s region of Argentina to connect with the landscape. She arrived to find that the practice of horse riding, which her grandfather continued throughout his life, at one point even despite a broken leg, was now obsolete. The only trace memory of it was kept alive in her mind. It is this memory and sense of interconnectedness that Sosa Rey aims to recreate, both through her images and creative process.
Her most recent performance piece, performed this past August, entitled FatherDaughter (2022), supported by Fondation Phi, allowed her the opportunity to include her father, Hector Sosa, in her creative process. This was no easy feat, given he himself is not an artist, and Sosa Rey recounted her frustrations in moments when he didn’t understand the project. However, the process created both a space for him to talk about his background as an athlete, and the opportunity for Sosa Rey to share about performance art through a pedagogical lens thus making space for his own agency within her conceptual frame.
Reminiscent of a childhood memory, the performance features the two of them, clad in matching black tee shirts, athletic blue shorts, moving in opposite directions by running and walking in a circular motion, on a public field. The space is completely open, setting a vulnerable tone for the piece since anyone could watch. The constant state of tension created by this adversarial movement explores the relationship between parent and child, autonomy and interdependence, and memory, migration and the search for identity. As Sosa Rey described it, the performance captured the feelings of “being together and separate, close and distant, caring for each other with fluidity and difficulty.” This duality of togetherness and separateness that she experienced with her father echoes that broader story of immigration within her family, and reveals the ways in which her performances are coloured by multiple facets of her identity.
However, Sosa Rey’s artistic range extends far beyond simply performance art. Her coloured pencil drawings of intertwined fabrics, including her collection Vestiges de grands écarts (2021), began as a way to incorporate art into her daily routine. The focus on textiles is an extension of her experimentation with fabric earlier in her career. She would often collect discarded textiles or clothing, because they were easily accessible, they allowed the making of projects with things already in circulation, yet spoke to what people decided to keep, and what they chose to throw away. When she cut these rags, or reconstructed these fabrics to make other objects, Sosa Rey recounted that she “incited a change in them that revealed their autonomy, as well as other ways of being in relation to each other.” Continuing her interest in internal observation, Sosa Rey began to draw images of fabrics that encompass the tension between independence and connectedness as they swirl, overlap, and pull on each other, moving both together and apart. Some bend and twist antagonistically, while others hang lazily or slump together at rest, in a blend of different hues. While the textile itself stays the same, embedded with some identity, when paired with other fabrics, it takes on a different form.
The dynamic relationships that she expresses with fabrics she considers as bodies in motion. They are manifestations of the relationships we have with our families, heritages, and identities. As we move and change, there are things we leave behind, to live on only in memory. Sosa Rey noted that these “small separations are like death, spaces for internal transformation.”
Especially when moving countries, there are parts of our heritage and history that we leave behind, as we become immersed by interactions in a new space, with new people. But, there are also ways in which learning to connect with others in unfamiliar environments can uncover different parts of ourselves.
Florencia Sosa Rey has traveled to different countries in her artistic journey, yet one of her most memorable experiences abroad was a residency she completed in Iceland (Saga Art Residency), which focused on creating art collectively. “It was very striking and had a very positive impact on my approach to art. It shifted something in the way I listened and shared and how I desired going forward ,” she remarked, as this was the first time she was pushed to constantly think and create with other people. Not only did the residency include daily workshops, but the group went on hikes together and participated in exercises such as remaining silent for three hours. For her it was intense to be so vulnerable with people she had just met, and then leave just as quickly.
The culmination of this residency was a piece that aimed to give prisoners at the Litla-Hraun, prison, located in a small fishing town in Iceland, access to art. Although they were legally mandated to keep their distance from the prison, hence the title Twenty Meters Away (2018), the group of artists and community members displayed brightly colored fabrics lit up by cars and flash lights making visible the public open mic session to those within the prison and those passing by. It was through this collective act of both creating and viewing the piece, especially for those existing far outside the art world, that allowed every participant to feel connected and empowered.
Having access to art gives us the chance to reflect on our own identities, relationships and the spaces we migrate through or into. Like fabrics, we are all connected, constantly moving around each other, in ever-shifting states of tension, yet it is this very discomfort that is inspiring. It prompts us to reflect, or to make art in Sosa Rey’s case. About an hour into our interview I asked her what she would be if she wasn’t an artist. She paused for a moment on my computer screen, in quiet contemplation, before finally replying, “A teacher. A teacher.” I couldn’t agree more. By creating art that is visible to everyone, she enables us to learn more about ourselves, and even make art that exposes newly fashioned points of view. From her initial ideas, to her creative process, to her belief in sharing her art with the public, Florencia Sosa Rey promotes this cycle of seeing, thinking, and creating. Her work is proof that art is an ever-evolving mirror, allowing us to uncover more about ourselves and the world at work around us.