Upfor Gallery, 929 NW Flanders St, Portland, OR 97209, United States

Danielle Roney: Frequencies of Opacity

Upfor Gallery

5 March – 30 April 2020

Review by Laurel V. McLaughlin

Blinking LED lights on the half-moon steel curves of ‘Strata Series: Zero’ and ‘Strata Series: Zero_One’ (both 2020) ascend and descend, irradiating the forms suspended from the ceiling and resting precariously on the floor. They illuminate the voices of migrants. Danielle Roney’s exhibition at Upfor Gallery, ‘Frequencies of Opacity’, imagines how migrants, violently labelled as illegal, could clandestinely occupy institutions and perhaps create renewed borderlands through technology. By hacking into technological apparatuses in the exhibition, such as the algorithms of blinking lights of the ‘Strata’ series, in addition to surveillance machinery and 3D printing in other works, Roney’s works refute nation-state, militarised power.

The aforementioned meteoric lights of the ‘Strata’ series ignite frequencies of the voices of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students (juveniles permitted to live in the U.S. under special dispensation) and other voices of those living undocumented. Their voices are translated via a reconfigured algorithm from sound to sight. As Roney has relayed in previous artist’s talks, this algorithmic transcription renders data visual and yet opaque. The anonymity of the voiced-lights, rather than simply an erasure of identities, ensures that individuals remain hidden who would otherwise be subject to state-sanctioned violence. A sliver of sight here doubles as bearing witness.

The ‘Whispers’ series (all 2019) similarly materially visualises narratives. Culling from earlier works such as ‘On the Edge of Self’, a 2010 video work with a voiceover performed by Penny Aviles, and a 2011 adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s play ‘Flüchtlingsgespräche’ (‘Refugee Conversations’) (1940–1941), voiced by Zoreh Birjandian, Roney creates 3D prints in her ‘Whispers’ series. ‘Mantra 01’ and ‘Mantra 02’, works from the series, are thus ghostly re-imaginings in nylon and acrylic. ‘Mantra 02’ re-articulates a past video work by Roney concerning the liminality of migration. The print appears to elude gravity as it sweeps upwards in flight atop a mic stand, materially embodying the phrase by Aviles: “you may leave by entering.” Its counterpart, ‘Mantra 01’, compresses post-war and contemporary discourses from Brecht and Roney. While Brecht’s characters, Ziffel and Kalle, ruminate upon who wields the power—the human or the passport—Roney’s vocal sculpture operates as an intimate index of Birjandian’s vocal implosion of the binary invoking revolution.

Admittedly, the revolutionary spirit of the textual descriptions included in the exhibition materials are more powerful than their sculptural manifestations. ‘PUBLICS’ (2020), however, offers a return to the conceptual and material rigour of the ‘Strata’ series. In this work, five Nest security cameras live-stream the viewer’s image to migrant communities from the Lawrence, Kansas area (where the work was originally commissioned). Not only does ‘PUBLICS’ reverse the surveillance dynamic consistently used against migrants, but it also exposes migratory aspects of technology, such as the fragmentation of memory, the clashing of simultaneous temporalities, and the myth of the unified self. Roney’s works consequently expose how technologies both occlude and disclose those who have experienced migration and those who bear witness.

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