Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: Feminist Art Base: Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas

A pioneer of video and performance art, Jonas belongs to a group of artists whose use of live action and video beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s gave rise to contemporary genres of video and performance art, which are embraced by younger generations of artists. From her seminal performance-based excercises of the 1970s to her later televisual narratives, Jonas engages viewers in an elusive theatrical portrayal of female identity. Employing an idiosyncratic vocabulary of ritualized gesture and symbolic objects that include masks, mirrors, and costuming, she explores the self and the body through layers of meaning.
I found myself continually investigating my own image in the monitor. I bought a mask of a doll’s face. It transformed me into an erotic seductress. I named this TV persona Organic Honey. Increasingly obsessed with the process of my own theatricality, the images fluctuated between narcissistic and a more abstract representation. The risk was submersion in solipsistic gestures. When exploring the possibilities of female imagery, thinking always of a magic show, I attempted to fashion a dialogue between different disguises and the fantasies they suggested  -- Joan Jonas, 1982
My earlier works involved mirrors as props, as metaphor. Self-examination and reflection were major political themes. The monitor -- an ongoing mirror. In the late sixties and early seventies the feminist movement exploded. Anger was a positive driving force. New technology gave women a new way of expression. During this time our friendships altered. This was a time of women talking, becoming more open, sharing how they were represented, revealing their position. My work developed against this background; I became involved in the roles women play.
This shift was also true for our friendships with men. We did not have to compete in the same way. The process was exciting, difficult and totally necessary. I will always remember that when I edited I Want To Live In The Country, 1976/77, a well known video artist and friend said to me, ‘I didn’t know women could think on two levels at the same time.’

I often refer to mythology and become interested in a particular time and place and how to bring it into the present. More recently Lines in the Sand based on "Helen in Egypt" by the poet Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) lead to a consideration that war is fought for an illusion. The Trojan War was a trade war. Helen went to Egypt; her phantom copy existed in Troy. I set the piece in Las Vegas where Luxor the casino stood for a contemporary copy. I did not attempt to play Helen but to translate the situation, referring in a poetic way to present conflict.
During the woman’s movement it was especially important for women to inspire women. It is also imperative that men and women inspire each other.  There is still room for self-examination. We must look outward to other cultures in diverse situations and take care of our collective futures.

View Joan Jonas's CV (PDF)

The Shape, The Scent, The Feel of ThingsWolf Lights Lines in the SandGlass Puzzle Volcano SagaOrganic HoneyMirror Check

Volcano SagaVertical RollLines in the Sand

New York, NY

550 West 21 Street
New York, NY 10011

Text, images, audio, and/or video in the Feminist Art Base are copyrighted by the contributing artists unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.