Joan Jonas. Vertical Roll, 1972.
Vertical Roll is a seminal work. In a startling collusion of form and content, Jonas constructs a theater of female identity by deconstructing representations of the female body and the technology of video. Using an interrupted electronic signal -- or "vertical roll" -- as a dynamic formal device, she dislocates space, re-framing and fracturing the image. The relentless vertical roll, which repeats throughout the tape, disrupts the image by exposing the medium's materiality. Using her body as performance object and video as a theatrical construct, Jonas unveils a disjunctive self-portrait. As she performs in front of the camera -- masked, wearing a feathered headdress, or costumed as a belly-dancer -- her feet, torso, arms and legs appear as disembodied fragments. Subjected to the violence of the vertical roll and the scrutiny of the video mirror, these disjointed images of the body -- including a photographic representation of a female nude -- are even further abstracted and mediated. The incessantly jumping picture frame, with its repeating horizontal black bar, both confronts and distances the viewer, creating a tension between subjectivity and objectivity. The tape's staccato, insistent visual rhythm is heightened by the regular, sharp crack of a spoon hitting a surface, which resounds as if Jonas were smacking the video equipment itself. In the tape's final moments, Jonas confronts the viewer face-to-face in front of the aggressively rolling video screen, adding yet another spatial and metaphorical layer of fragmentation and self-reflection to this theatrical hall of mirrors.
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