Crisis meets magic and sadness meets beauty in this writer, activist, model and illustrator's latest book titled “Soon I Will Be Gold and Carmine.”
The world will be hostile but we'll make it beautiful.
Although sometimes they seem to come out of nowhere, every idea has a soul behind it. Vanina Cornelia Bruc’s https://www.instagram.com/vaninabruc/ fanciful occurrences can seem like it, and then, we find out their peculiar forcefulness. Seventeenth-century witches, drag queens in Cerdanya, a Connecticut housewife, Pharaonic Egypt, her childhood obsession with Sailor Moon and her task of making the world kinder and more inclusive are integrated into a complex universe that disguises itself as unreal, to expose the ordinary, the universal and the transcendent. We talked to her about her new book Pronto seré de oro y carmín (Soon I Will Be Gold and Carmine), a collection of short stories that confront the norm and the conception of this world, sometimes horrible but still beautiful.
You are a writer, model, activist, illustrator, how would you define yourself for those who don't know you? Tell us who Vanina Cornelia Bruc is.
I think this is a complicated question. I feel and I would say that I am a creative person. Yes, I'm a writer because I write, I'm a model because I work with my image, I'm an illustrator because I illustrate my work. So, a good definition would be based on these three activities. There are more things I do, but if I have to make a summary I choose those.
Your artistic and personal trajectory has led you to mutate in different aspects, one of them being spatial, leaving in the past your native Catalonia. How was your journey and why did you decide to move to Berlin?
From Barcelona, I moved to London and then I went to Madrid. With the pandemic, I travelled to Granada. And from there, yes, I came to Berlin. I like to be in a place that has energy, that opens me up to new jobs and challenges. It is very important that the place where I am at allows me to see things that I could not imagine. I need to be surprised because my mind already fantasises a lot and I want to go where my mind doesn't go. I want things that are strong, that shake me up, that make me say, “Wow, I didn't think this was possible!” And that's why Berlin seemed ideal for me to grow, as an artist and creator and as a person.
You have published two books so far. Vera, a novel about self-discovery that deals with the right to make mistakes and the power of creativity, and your recent Soon I Will Be Gold and Carmine, a collection of stories marked by confusion, crisis and magic. The protagonists are people outside the norm – being trans, drag queens, lesbians, witches – who only seek to be free and live their lives in their own way. What evolution do you find between one story and the other, both literary and pragmatic, and what symbolic similarities do you maintain between them?
I wrote Vera while I was at University and the whole process of Soon I Will Be Gold and Carmine was in Madrid. I think the only thing both stories have in common is the presence of emotions. In both, I connected a lot with my own emotions and with those of the characters. Beyond that, I don't see many similarities since inVera I was more focused on liberating the act of writing itself while in my new book, I found myself doing it without any oppression and I was surprised by my capacity and creative energy. One thing that stands out about my process is not judging what I'm doing. Sometimes I think of things that amaze me and I don't know where they come from and then I go back to them and say, “What was I thinking?” So I learn to establish as clear a channel as possible so that the idea doesn't limit me and I can get a concept down.
How did you come to conceive the genre ‘magic-queer’ and what does it encompass?
I made that term up.
I had to shoot a video alone in front of my cell phone talking about my latest book and I said, “The genre is magical-queer.” Then I realised it made a lot of sense. On the one hand, the book is made up of queer characters, who for various reasons are outside the norm. It could be because of their gender, their orientation, their country of origin, their social class, for simply not conforming to what society tells them their life has to be. In that nonconformity and departure from the norm is the character of queer. And then it is magical because there are fantastic elements, although not one hundred per cent.
For example, in the chapter I'll do with you whatever I want, there is the cosmic death of a pharaoh. A queen who dresses as a man when her husband dies and experiences a physical death and goes through the mud that is her memories and rises to the cosmos. Evidently, there is a magical element. The other stories don't have such an obvious fantasy element but they do have a context that I consider magical. Even though there is sadness, there is a glittering aesthetic, glamorous, celebratory environment and I find that magical. It transcends the factual. Even though they are stories of dissidence that may contain drama, there are also very beautiful things.
The character Keiko illustrates this perfectly. Her story begins when she wakes up covered in cat pee. She is a Japanese trans woman living in 1970s New York and is an alcoholic. By the standards of the straight world, she leads a complicated life. According to the norm, she would have a sinister existence but I find it beautiful. In one scene, she gets on a stage with blue curtains with a rose in her hands to perform a dance that transcends her physical body, that goes beyond this earthly life. She rises and at that moment she thinks of the sun of Okinawa, where she grew up. That is something resilient and empowering to me. It's like saying, “At this moment I shine, at this moment I am me.”
Evidently, bordering with the real is a key topic in your work. How do you think a magical conception can be materialised into a tangible message for society?
I think it's possible because that's my conception of the world, that's how I see it. I see myself contemplating reality through fantasy, through the absolutely most beautiful things. Therefore, I see the completely real as impossible. Because this reality coexists with this magic and spirituality. And that is my inner world. I could not tell a message in any other way.
I once heard you say “Because there will be sadness but also beauty.” Is one a condition of the other?
I think there can be a lot of beauty in sadness and melancholy, and I also think there is something beautiful in experiencing different emotions, even the saddest ones. To come face to face with them and let them pass through you is already an act of undeniable beauty. For me, a sad thing can be very beautiful and a beautiful thing can be very sad.
Symbology and colours link all the characters in Soon I will be Gold and Carmine. Tell us a little more about the common thread of all the stories.
The common denominator, I think, is the need for freedom. The characters are very different, they belong to very different historical contexts: the seventies in New York in Keiko, the nineties in Rome with a boy and his sugar daddy, an Italian village in the sixties in the story of a girl, the United Kingdom in 2019 with a pro-Brexit woman, the trial of a witch in the seventeenth century, among others.
In these journeys, both spatial and temporal, there is a need to search, to be genuine, which is what connects them. After creating very different worlds, I noticed that something related to them all and it is precisely the dissidence and the pursuit of freedom, in different ways. This does not mean that they are all good people, nor that the perspective is the same. In fact, there are stories that are told from two different points of view, which makes it change completely. Perspective is a resource I like to explore. The vision marked by everything that each person has accumulated since birth absolutely changes the discourse. That's why I find it fascinating.
And outside of the narrative, who and what empowers you in the process of seeking freedom in everyday reality, even though we know you don't conceive of it one hundred per cent as such.
It is empowering and I like to connect with people who live freely and who follow their instinct and the beat of their own drum. I get a lot of inspiration from my girlfriend, performer and model Mina Serrano, https://www.instagram.com/_minaserrano/ and my friends. Also figures in the media like Björk, Kate Bush, Kylie Minogue, Nicole Kidman, FKA Twigs and Grace Jones. These are people who pursue what they want. I am and will be that, as genuine as possible and someone who makes things happen. I also get so empowered when I'm with a group of trans people because there's absolutely spectacular resilience and power. There is an incredible identity process behind getting there that is pure energy.
It's not very usual to see fiction writers on the covers of their books, how did you come up with it?
For me, as a fiction writer, being on the cover is great. I love being a cover girl. And the fact that it's not common, I like it more. I took some pictures at home and the editors (Gonzalo and Alberto from the publishing house Dos Bigotes) told me: “Raul Lazaro (who is the artist) was thinking about the cover images and he loves yours.” That's how they proposed me to be the cover girl and I said, “Go ahead, one hundred per cent, how can I say no to that?” Besides, I'm a figure that could belong to Soon I'll be Gold and Carmine because it's a universe that I created. The day the book came out I went to a bookstore and saw my face, my name, my work, and it was an incredible feeling of a lot of representation and celebration of myself.
Where do you think we are heading as a society and where do you plan to head as an artist/person?
Regarding the direction as a society, let me tell you that I maintain a positive outlook on the world. Obviously, there are terrifying things happening, but when I look at my own and the collective path in perspective, I feel hope. It is true that there are four jerks who think the world belongs to them and commit hostile acts. But I also believe, and I see it with the people around me, that those I know, those I deal with, those I work with... that there are many of us who want to create a more beautiful place of celebration.
The world always, for one reason or another, squeezes us all. There is always something to go through, no matter what. And when a person breaks free, inevitably does it to the people around. It has already been proven, male power based on force, oppression and class division has only generated panic, frustration and internal ailments that are projected onto others. That has happened for thousands of years and it did not work. That is why I trust in the contribution of a different energy, as this brings nothing and leads us to situations that we do not want. I think that, luckily, we are understanding that there is another way of doing things so I keep the positive perspective and transfer it to me as a person/artist.
My task is to communicate beautiful things, I'm focused on the queer cause because it is my world and the world of my closest people. As we said before, this doesn't mean they are not sad or real. I don't sugarcoat things, I don't hide the traumas and I recognise that they happen and I face them. I do give them a bright environment and an optimistic vision that makes us dream. Because I also need to dream and if I can make others do it, it is an incredible achievement.
Regarding the title of your work: why “gold” and “carmine”? Do you consider that you will be of gold, of carmine, that you already are?
The title of the book came to me at the end. It was not premeditated at all. It emerged with one of the stories that have a double perspective, which is the seventeenth-century one. There is Edmundo, a judge, a vile man who punishes Carmela, a witch. He does it because she cannot be his because she is free, independent, charismatic, beautiful and liberated. Carmela's speech goes from the dungeon to the stake. When she is there she says: “I will be a goddess, I will be silver” and thinks: “I will be gold and carmine.”
Carmine symbolises the bonfire itself, the colours of the fire that will eliminate her from the physical world. I will be gold and carmine is to say I will be elevated, I will be superior, I will be greater than the world, I will be what I was always meant to be. It is that connection, that energy of being in our colours, of being radiant. It's saying, “I'm going to embrace my own strength, I'm going to embrace all my colours.” In fact, in the book, the theme of colour and metals is important. There is the presence of gold, silver and precious stones because they evoke the colours that I feel in telling the story and there is also a gem power that I find very symbolic.
So I believe that right now I am gold and carmine because I am what I want to be, and I also know that I am going to be more than I am now. I'm at a point where I am at ease with myself, in tune with my frequency and what I truly believe and want. That's why I feel that I am gold and carmine and that I am going to be more of it.
Portrait: Raquel Xallas