Sense and Sense
(American, b. 1977)
2010. Two-channel video (color, silent), 15:25 min.
Sense and Sense reflects artist Emily Roysdon’s interests in social and political demonstrations, organizing disparate groups of people, and physical movement. Claiming, “A lot of work that I’ve done revolves around inviting people to participate in things,”1 Roysdon asked performance and installation artist MPA to be the main participant in this work. Passersby in Sergels Torg, the bustling public square in Stockholm where the performance is set, could also be considered participants, albeit unwitting ones.
Sergels Torg was built as a site for public gatherings and protest. Though it has served this purpose since its completion in 1967, when not filled with rallying citizens, it is simply a space to pass through. Such contrasting uses struck Roysdon, who observed: “Everybody is just zigzagging across it and walking.”2 Through Sense and Sense, she aimed to explore the everyday use of the square, while evoking its intended function.
Centered upon footage of MPA’s live performance in Sergels Torg, the work consists of two videos playing simultaneously on screens set side-by-side on the floor, accompanied by an installation of photographed details of the square. Both screens show MPA lying on her side, laboriously crossing the square by moving her body in a manner that mimics walking. On the left screen, she appears in a tightly framed, looping shot showing her incremental progression across a small section of the square. The right screen offers a bird’s-eye-view, in which MPA and passersby appear antlike against the square’s repeating geometric motifs. The contrast between their easy walking and her effortful movement is distinct, as well as disruptive. The performance gives people pause, and some stop to watch. By inserting such an unexpected encounter into the day-to-day rhythms of the square, Roysdon wanted to jar people into seeing it anew. “I do think we can shift the way things around us are understood,” she has said. “That would be my most basic justification for what I allow myself to do.”3
A term describing moving-image artworks recorded onto magnetic tape or digital formats, or generated using other mechanisms such as image-processing tools, and available for immediate playback.
The art of creating and arranging dances or ballets; a work created by this art. A person who creates choreography is called a choreographer.
An image, especially a positive print, recorded by exposing a photosensitive surface to light, especially in a camera.
A term that emerged in the 1960s to describe a diverse range of live presentations by artists, including actions, movements, gestures, and choreography. Performance art is often preceded by, includes, or is later represented through various forms of video, photography, objects, written documentation, or oral and physical transmission.
A distinctive and often recurring feature in a composition.
The materials used to create a work of art, and the categorization of art based on the materials used (for example, painting [or more specifically, watercolor], drawing, sculpture).
A form of art, developed in the late 1950s, which involves the creation of an enveloping aesthetic or sensory experience in a particular environment, often inviting active engagement or immersion by the spectator.
Resembling or using the simple rectilinear or curvilinear lines used in geometry.
The method by which information is included or excluded from a photograph, film, or video. A photographer or filmmaker frames an image when he or she points a camera at a subject.
From Sense to Nonsense
The writings of Belgian political theorist Chantal Mouffe are among the inspirations shaping Emily Roysdon’s approach to projects like Sense and Sense. The artist titled this work after a quote by Mouffe, which refers to consensus and to a form of governance based on conflict avoidance. By repeating the word, “sense,” to form a phrase that seems illogical, Roysdon playfully questions its meaning and suggests its opposite, nonsense.
An Art of Collaboration
To realize her works in a variety of mediums, Roysdon collaborates with a wide range of people—from fellow artists to activists to curious volunteers. She credits MPA for helping her to bring Sense and Sense to fruition. “I think I provided the structure and framing for the project, as well as the form…and [MPA] and I collaborated on the process and movement,” she describes. “But it is not exactly like I am the director or the choreographer and she is the performer. It’s more like I presented a challenge and together we figured [it] out…[MPA] is very generous with her energy.”4
With Each Project, A New Start
Though she has established herself as a successful artist with a substantial body of work, Roysdon approaches each new project as if it were her first. “Every single time I start a project I start from zero,” she says. “I actually go back to the place of ‘Do I want to be an artist?’ I do that every time, and I think it would be a hell of a lot easier if I didn’t do that. But each time I re-build the path to where I am.”5
VIDEO: A “Ten-Minute Talk” between Emily Roysdon and former MoMA bibliographer David Senior