Emily Ryalls: You Can’t Sit Here

This work is made of two scanned images of a double sided poster-zine. 1. A woman arches her back, leaning backwards over a curved metal pole which invades the space of low ledge. 2. A woman arches her back (now her hands reach back to touch the ledge), she mimics the curvature of the invading pole structure. 3. Pictured is a ‘bench’, raw edged and concrete. Slabs of sculpted concrete divide the structure - two small dividers, creating a small, hooded seat and one longer one. A woman lays on her back, in the curvature of the longer concrete divider. 4. Third in a series of three, a woman now turns to face the dividing metal pole. She allows her body to relax over it. 5. A man stands next to two bench-like slabs, both metal with one taller brick wall dividing them. Each slab is intruded by metal bars, creating divisions between bodies. The man pictured, stretches his leg at ninety degrees over the ‘benches’, meeting the brick wall with his foot. He stands holding a smoothie. 6. A hand reaches out to grab a metal divider-like object. The divider is phallic shaped and disguised as an animal of some sort - perhaps a dog. It has two ‘legs’ and is standing with a long nose that stretches across the metal bench. 7. A woman rests her head on bed of small spikes, laid across a brick ledge. 8. Two women drape their bodies across two large, curved seat dividers. The dividers lay across a slab of raw edge concrete on a high street. The women’s bodies fold over the fossil-like curves. 9/10. Two photographs overlaid. Thick metal bars divide a long wooden bench, one image features a woman laid across the bench - bars pressed deep into her stomach, raising her lower back. The second looks down the long bench, interrupted by metal T’s. 11. A couple perch on the edge of an L shaped seat, in attempt to be close to one another. Their knees touch and hands join in the crease of the cold and grey metal bench. 13. A woman grasps onto the corner of a sloping ledge. 14. On a smooth marble bench, a woman lays her head back. A thick metal divider sits under her neck.
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This work is made of two scanned images of a double sided poster-zine. A woman sits on the floor of a high street, behind her is a concrete structure. The structure sits solid and flat to the floor and is layered with slabs of waved concrete, almost resembling pillows. These stacks of waved and raw concrete make for an uneven and tiered surface. The woman stays seated on the floor and lays her head backwards onto one of the concrete pillow-like slabs.
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The more that you describe these spaces...what they are, who they apply to, the kind of people that you would find using them – it just registers so much differently, because of how accepting we've become with our eyes and what belongs in our city spaces." — Emily Ryalls

Emily Ryalls (she/her) is an artist based in Wakefield. Ryalls’ practice incorporates photography and performance, and explores collaborative approaches that facilitate co-production.

Ryalls is currently working with The Art House, Wakefield, where she recently opened a new community darkroom facility to nurture local artists, with a special interest in supporting the growth of a socially engaged photography network in the area. She also founded The Merrie Collective in 2020.

For her bursary project, Ryalls has started exploring our relationship with hostile architecture; an urban design practice which intentionally restricts behaviour in public spaces, described by Ryalls as ‘anti-people’.

Using her Bronica 645 medium format camera, Ryalls has captured a range of choreographed and improvised interactions between people and elements of hostile architecture across Leeds, Wakefield and Castleford. The resulting images are sometimes gentle, almost romantic but always uncomfortable: two people fold themselves over a concrete bench designed to discourage lying down and congregating, someone bends their body over railings used to deter sitting.

Ryalls processes her film in the darkroom at The Art House, Wakefield. For this project, she scanned the negatives and created a poster zine, folded it and re-scanned, creating the images above and playing with the discord between physical and digital experiences. Referencing a broadsheet newspaper, Ryalls work spills and bleeds across the page.

The pages include the marriage of text and images, featuring an image description for each photograph. The descriptions stem from an exploration of how we accept these hostile structures as part of our landscape, provoking thought into the difference between how we respond to visual signifiers and written and spoken descriptions of our public spaces.

You can learn more about Ryalls’ practice, process and the darkroom at The Art House in the video below.

Videographer Jenny Handley Download transcript

Thanks to The Art House, Wakefield.

Emily is Darkroom Coordinator for their new Community Darkroom. Find out more here.

Discover the other PANIC! bursary artists

This work is presented as part of the PANIC! (Promoting an Artists’ Network in the Crisis) series of bursaries.

Earlier this year, PANIC! awarded a group of artists in Leeds City Region £5,000 and £1,000 bursaries to support the making of a new contemporary visual artwork or project. The bursaries offered space to create a voice and help us think through the new psychological, social and cultural conditions we face today.

You can find the work of artists Abdullah Adekola, Tora Hed, Dave Peel and Tammy Tsang here.