Art Matters

Artist Emily Roysdon fills the VAC with embodied queer theory

Artist Emily Roysdon fills the VAC with embodied queer theory

Visual Arts Center visiting installation artist Emily Roysdon isn't comfortable with defining herself by any one genre of artistic expression.

She is a founding writer of the long-running queer journal LTTR. She is a photographer and a videographer. She is a purveyor of choreographic expression. And she is soon to be a published academic writer of complicated art theory.

So, yeah, how do you capture what she does in one tidy package?

Over a break room table in one of the many labyrinthine concrete hallways of the VAC, she sums up succinctly what she would like to call herself: "Queer."

"It's a valuable word," she says, matter-of-factly. "It works in so many instances. It's a choice for identification for people who are figuring out ways to live. It's also what I'm doing with my art."

Indeed, Roysdon's no-nonsense personal effect matches her clear statements about her approaches to art and politics. She considers her words carefully and never says more than she needs to get her point across.

But her work, for all of its straight-forward methodology, is another matter altogether. Packed with theoretical complexities, her work takes more than a pedestrian understanding of queer aesthetics and choreography vocabulary to fully appreciate.

"My work was largely about language and expression, so I haven't made a lot of things," she laughs. "When I was younger, I didn't have the money to do it. But now that I'm older, I want to and like to make things."

Currently, the New York and Stockholm-based artist is in Austin for a three-week artist residency at the VAC. What she is making is a new installation called Pause, Pose, Discompose.

The proposed vision for the Vaulted Gallery is a collection of video and 12-foot silk screened photo elements that display what she calls "minor theatrics": small moving images or gestures that analyze the subtle differences between movements of the body and actual, motivated action.

She offers, "I'm not a trained dancer or a choreographer by any means, but I love the challenge of this work and the vocabulary of these terms and how they pertain to my work."

In past work, Roysdon has applied dance theory to queer protests and imagined political possibilities she calls "ecstatic resistance." She continues that awareness of body politics and sites of resistance in this exhibit, considering her use of space and its transformation, in this case, of the VAC into a black box performance space.

"What we're creating is as much a performance as I'm interested in at a gallery," she says. "I suppose if I ever did perform, it would be here. I really like it here in Austin. It feels like a real city, feels comfortable to experiment. The gallery has that second floor and those glass walls. I would like to experiment with that space."

When she talks of transforming the space, she employs the word "discomposing" to indicate the agitation or disruption of expected norms. She includes this seldomly used word in the title of her show, but admits some discord in its very usage.

"Discomposition," she over-enunciates it, searching for a familiar pronunciation. "It's a word that I've only been working with a month or so. I like to think about it, but I don't like to say it. I hesitate to use it too often — feel like I need to break it up. I wonder if it's the right word to use for the show or for the piece. I'm still working on that."

The word, she reveals, comes from her early years studying international politics in college. ("I thought I had to be useful," she reflects.) It was a professor that insisted she take up photography to document her passion for political gatherings and the performance of struggle and identity.

"Cameras are still my favorite tools beyond language. If I did it all over again, I would probably pursue print making or directing early on," she states. "I didn't go to art school until graduate school, so I suppose by then I was already more conceptual than most of the other artists."

Guiding Roysdon through the creation process and helping her find footing in a whirlwind tour to Austin is art historian and lecturer Andy Campbell, who was assigned to work as curator for this exhibit. A match, Roysdon says, could not have been better.

"I've been DIY for so many years, it's interesting working with somebody else who speaks the same language as I do in regards to space and materials and resources. He wears lots of hats; he's just able to do everything," she says about Campbell.

Prior to Roysdon's arrival, Campbell and Roysdon have been hosting a series of evening film screenings of quintessential queer art cinema called "Emily + Andy's Film Club" at the VAC. Roysdon will also be presenting a short lecture and conversation with Ann Cvetkovich of the UT Women's and Gender Studies Program.

After she premieres the new work in Austin, Roysdon will again create new iterations of Pause, Pose, Discompose in other cities throughout the world. In each city, new performance elements will be added to match the context of the space.

"The next piece, for example, will be more aggressive . . . with this huge sound component," she explains. "That's part of the difference between the two places. Playing music here would have a less dramatic effect than it will in other places."

With all of these weighty theoretical approaches, I wonder aloud if she's ever worried about alienating any of her potential audience, whether or not people seem to get what she's so passionately putting out into the world.

"To be honest, I haven't really worried about it," she says without hesitation. "I grew up in LTTR where we were just doing it for each other. Who knew if anyone else was going to read it? And that's where my focus still lies. I've never considered changing for the art world. I don't know where that confidence comes from, but it's how I've always operated."


Pause, Pose, Discompose premieres in the Vaulted Gallery as a part of the Visual Arts Center Fall 2012 Opening Reception on Friday, Sept. 21. Admission is free and open to the public.  


Austin Photo: News_Mike_VAC_Emily Roysdon
Artist Emily Roysdon Courtesy of Visual Arts Center
Austin Photo: News_Emily Roysdon_Poster
Courtesy of Visual Arts Center