Visitor account by Richard John Jones of Emily Roysdon’s 'By Any Other Name', Stedelijk Museum, 13 February 2014

    2. To make art, to take clothes off
      Visitor account of Emily Roysdon's performance 'By Any Other Name' by Richard John Jones

      It is a simple question of how one can describe. Simple. It is simply that question.

      How can one portray without recognition, insist without repetition and describe without reference? In the following I will relay an experience of Emily Roysdon’s work By Any Other Name, performed at the Stedelijk Museum on Thursday 13th February 2014 at 5pm. Each time I return to edit what you are about to read which is essentially a stream of consciousness, a question emerges; what does it mean to read with the body? The performance included texts, works of others, images, collages, cut-ups that are all assembled, voiced, embodied, enacted yet somehow discreet from one another. If one is to read something, to identify with it, to find oneself in it, to perform it and to voice it etc. is one giving a performance or rather reading with the body?

      I discovered the work of Babi Badalov through the visual poems Emily commissioned to be included in By Any Other Name. His work is entrancing, , I want to see as much as I can. A previous work of Badalov’s, a statement drawn onto a wall, juxtaposes two phrases:

      to make art
      to take clothes off

      To make art, to take clothes off, what would it mean to read with the body?

      Emily’s practice already feels close, like it cruises me on the metro. Heavy eye contact, perhaps a subtle brush on my arm, an experience of distance or alienation in urban space radically penetrated by the potentiality for intimate contact. I am naturally excited. These are moments of recognition and of reception, of giving something up, of offering something up, of simply laying back and taking it. Close friends of mine have appeared in her previous work, there is some sort of proximity, some circulation of ideas, bodies, feelings, that make me feel like I already have some closeness or access to the work. I look inwards for a way of looking out. I am reading, listening, watching, responding from the inside out.

      Again, it haunts me, what does it mean to read with the body?

      At first, I am sitting and watching familiar faces arrive in the foyer of the Stedelijk. These faces don’t seem to offer me any immediate recognition. I am alone. I am making myself alone. I don’t feel like talking, I want to be separate. As people arrive for the performance perhaps the best way I can qualify them is to say that they are regulars, at least they have familiar faces. There are regulars in Amsterdam, people I recognise from the audience of a performance that I was working on not long before this one. There are familiar faces, the last time I saw them I was naked. To make art, to take clothes off.

      Then there are these two anonymous boys. They are also here in the museum foyer, buying tickets. They are visible because they are filming everything on video cameras. They are awkward, nervous almost. They also have those familiar ‘anonymous’ masks perched on the side of their heads. The ones that are used by the Internet activist group that call themselves Anonymous. Indeed these masks are now familiar from each and every protest I have seen over the past few years. The cartoonish Guy Fawkes mask usually obscures the face. These boys wear them on the side of their heads. I wonder whether they are part of the performance at first but it becomes clear that they just happen to arrive at the same time. I enjoy watching them as they are clearly navigating the space differently, nervously with a sort of jumpy machismo. One of them has a nice arse. He has a skin-tight surfing shirt with contrasting thread on the seams. I am aware that I am sitting here as a spectator, watching the people arriving at the museum. I am watching them as if they are in the performance – at this point I don’t know when the performance starts, where, how or with who and at this point I am guessing I am also not really the ‘audience’ yet.

      We, I alone, us all together, we stand on the landing between two flights of stairs on a balcony that hangs in the middle of the atrium. From here, we can see through the glass wall of the foyer outside onto the square. I am watching again as a spectator of everyone.

      Next thing, I see the anonymous boys outside with a couple of security guards. Literally, in less than 5 mins they have been thrown out of the museum. Again I wonder whether they are part of the performance as they mingle with a group of figures in costume, awkward shapeless panels with collaged cut-up print on. This group move around the square as a group of sorts. They are dancing, they are moving, walking, in out and around. Back and forth, fast and slow, they meander, are spinning, rotating as if they have a vertical axis, they are not talking. Some parts look like CCTV footage of people walking through a public square but the tape is being played fastforward and rewound, back and forth, round and round. “If there is a queer way of walking this is it” I think to myself. They are communicating through their movement, they are very much together but I can’t work out when they follow, when they stop or how they work out their movements. Any structure or repetition seems quickly forgotten or subverted. They are distant. They are on the other side of the glass with the other people moving in and out and beside and around and waiting and loitering, smoking or parking bicycles. The spinning following walking, regimented but chaotic group in the panel costumes are now moving fast, in a line - straight for the revolving door. Well that slows them down. They enter the museum one by one in their strange uniforms.

      My attention shifts from the costumes to other people, I am spectating. I am watching everyone – without focus. I wonder whether the group that are wearing the strange uniforms are actually the audience. We watch them enter, just as we did. They are together, we are on the stairs. We are together but apart, they move together but in way in which they are not one cohesive group. Everyone knows someone, some people, probably most people here amongst the regulars and familiar faces yet we are individual, individuated somehow.

      The people in the costumes enter the foyer one by one and join us on the stairs. Their costumes rustle, they are made of a stiff synthetic fabric, sewn together roughly, the ends of the black threads hang loose. They are wearing a top and shorts over their coats, they look bloated, or at least their clothes dwarf their bodies. They don’t have much eye contact, I get the sense that they want me to look at their outfits more than their faces. I hold myself awkwardly, awaiting instruction. Emily invites us into the auditorium, there are two performers in crushed velvet shorts flanking Emily side by side. These are the performers, we are the audience. We are two audiences perhaps, the one in the costumes with the choreography that we just watched enter the museum are an audience too, separate from us but on the stairs together, we all negotiate the space awkwardly waiting to be invited in.

      The auditorium is filled with cut-ups of images, cut ups of the works of Babi Badalov. I find myself next to an image of a gay rubber fetish model with PIG emblazoned on his back that has been cut out of some trashy gay magazine to be included in one of Badalov’s visual poems. There are small lights that run around us forming a rectangle that sits diagonally in the space. I think the rubber pig goes with my leather trousers, so I make this my location. We are told to lie down like sardines. I look upwards. My shoes are in the hallway outside. There are also photogram images on the floor. They look celestial, like planets or solar eclipses. A strong white circle overlaid with a fuzzy crescent corona. I find out later that these are photograms of butt plugs – a butt plug as a sundial?

      I am laying down and as I do the blood rushes to my head. I was in this position a few days before. The blood rushes to the hole in my mouth where my tooth was. The dentist pulled it out 2 days ago, I was on my back then. And now the blood is rushing there and a pang of the pain I have been feeling comes back, something like a pressing feeling, aching. I lay on cut up images, listening to cut up text, watching elements cut up and reassembled, and my jaw is throbbing, my tooth was cut out. Maybe I am cut up, I certainly don’t feel particularly together. It is not just my tooth, although I can’t ignore it but I am also being cut up by the performance - laying here just taking it - trying to piece together my experience. It’s not that the construction of the performance is fragmented, it is very much together but it produces a feeling of fragmentation. My proximity with the performers feels like it is accompanied by distance – I’m hardly aware now of other people in the room or at least I am but with space in-between. Precarity comes to mind. The experience of laying here horizontal, on the floor while things happen around, alongside and above me feels precarious. Is the performance held by a thread? A tension emerges from this in-betweenness, this feeling of occupying or inhabiting the in-between, or maybe I’m just acting out the stress of unexpectedly having to cover my recent dental bills.

      I see the inside of my eyelids at times. Eleanor dances in my periphery, I didn’t notice at first. The lights that form a rectangle around me throb, like they are breathing, like the light on the front of my macbook when it was sleeping. It is mechanical, but strangely organic. I didn’t notice that she was dancing around us, over us slightly. It’s only when she comes closer that you see the shaking, hear her breathing, the joints clicking. It is a mesmerising peripheral experience.

      I am drawn to thinking of Silence=Death. Of a recognisable image of AIDS activism. Works or doesn’t. It is the projection of a pink triangle with waves on top, looks just like the Act Up poster. It appears on the wall. Works or doesn’t. The performers are repeating “Works or doesn’t.” It sounds like a conversation perhaps about time, temporal drag. Earlier there were more whole images richly embellished with text by Babi Badalov projected on a screen that hangs above us.

      To make art to take clothes off. What does it mean to read with the body?

      In retrospect I think it all hinges around Emily’s reading of the first part of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of one’s own. The act of reading, of voicing in the way in which it was done is more than just collage. It feels different. My experience here is of fragmentation, moments of time, recognition of the familiar faces, of anonymous boys. I am drawn into my body as much by the pain in my jaw as by being asked to lie down, close to others, touching slightly. Moving from my body outwards (upwards?) I consider having to write this text and wonder how can one portray without recognition, insist without repetition and describe without reference?

      Works or doesn’t.
      If I Can't Dance,
      I Don't Want to Be Part of
      Your Revolution