Berkeley

Emily Roysdon, Untitled, 2010, color photograph, 24 x 24".

Emily Roysdon, Untitled, 2010, color photograph, 24 x 24".

Emily Roysdon

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA)

Emily Roysdon, Untitled, 2010, color photograph, 24 x 24".

“If I Don’t Move Can You Hear Me?”—Emily Roysdon’s first solo US exhibition—investigated the ways in which individual and social bodies communicate. Engaging the grammars and conventions—linguistic, architectural, institutional, or otherwise—that govern public expression and intelligibility, the show featured an installation of screen-printed and collaged photographs, a zine produced by Roysdon on site, as well as a video created in Stockholm this past fall. (These elements plus another new work are on view at New York’s Art in General through May 7.) A sense of the unfinished and improvisatory dominated the show. For example, traversing the circumference of the gallery was a waist-high plywood shelf for presenting fifteen photographs, which, mounted but left unframed, had been propped against the wall as if still in the process of being installed. Interspersed and piled on the floor below were takeaway copies of the zine, forming stacks that, continually depleted and replenished, appeared as makeshift, interactive sculpture. More than offering stylized signifiers of process, Roysdon’s treatment of the space underscored the genuine ideological and logistical challenges of employing an ad hoc working method within an institutional setting: Not only is spontaneity curbed, but, perhaps paradoxically, in the process of prompting creative forms of making do, unintended meanings are generated.

Such tension—the by-product of unaligned regulation and use—was highlighted by the two-channel video Untitled, 2010. Documenting performance artist MPA “walking” across Stockholm’s main public square, Sergels Torg, while lying on her side, Roysdon’s work shows MPA hoisting and inching her body forward, struggling to maintain the illusion of a natural stride. This scene at once evokes the tasklike movements pioneered by the Judson dancers while calling to mind Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. Juxtaposed with close-up shots of the art action is a sweeping panoptical perspective onto the plaza, showing people passing back and forth across the starkly geometric, black-and-white surface. The contrast between the habitual, effortless movement of the other pedestrians and MPA’s deliberate, awkward gait shows how public spaces so often serve as mere thoroughfares, suggesting that, as Chantal Mouffe has argued, certain possibilities within the public sphere are naturalized while others remain repressed and unconsidered.

At Berkeley (a place with its own mythologized history as a site of radical publicity), Roysdon choreographed and photographed a series of improvised movements in the museum and its adjacent courtyard. Some images show artist Chris Vargas enacting simple gestures against the dramatic concrete facades of Mario Ciampi’s Brutalist architecture, while others, arranged in a grid formation, distill Vargas in various poses floating freely against a white background, calling to mind posters of yoga asanas or semaphore diagrams. Yet, clad in a T-shirt and long johns and decidedly undancerly, Vargas is not shown mastering these postures but inhabiting them in a distanced way. His play within (if not refusal of) corporeal codes is made all the more poignant by his transgendered (female-to-male) identity. Bold black or red bars aggressively censor several images, while enlarged hand-drawn pencil lines, like empty musical staffs inviting notation, have been superimposed on others.

In the first issue of LTTR (the gender-queer feminist art journal Roysdon cofounded with Ginger Brooks Takahashi and K8 Hardy in 2001), the artist wrote of “the possibility of performing and articulating the movement between static choices of identity.” Indeed, this show considered how the body might exceed preconceived categories and outstrip attempts to read it through fixed signs or languages. Choreography—literally the writing of movement—here became a way to generate semantic instability in bodies, words, and the publics they produce. The zine that accompanied the exhibition, A Queer Relational Associative Project Dictionary, in which pairs of contributors defined terms by producing collages, poems, handwritten lists, and transcripts, contributed to this expanded practice of choreography. Here, instead of writing movement, the focus is on the movement of language and the ways in which conditions of circulation and distribution create further indeterminate possibilities for collective meaning both on and off the page.

Gwen Allen