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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Joan Jonas

New York,
USA

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.

Feminist Artist Statement

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.

<p>The Shape, The Scent, The Feel of Things</p>

The Shape, The Scent, The Feel of Things

True to her form of translating the language of video (editing, montage) into performance and passing performance through the lens of video, the newest iteration of Joan Jonas’s The Shape, The Scent, The Feel of Things, 2004–2005, is a sophisticated, layered, and at times exhaustingly complex reflection on diverse cultural source material. Commissioned by and performed at Dia:Beacon in October, 2005, this project is the result of Jonas’s research into German art historian Aby Warburg’s essay about a fin de siècle trip to the American Southwest. Warburg’s musings served as therapeutic tool aiding his recovery from a mental breakdown, and Jonas’s installation retains this condition of transformation. Formally, the initial performance—an epic narrative affair that supplements her standard female protagonists with a cast of mystical and historical characters, melodramatic musical accompaniment, and both prerecorded and live-feed video projections—shape shifts into static and sculptural elements. Two short “archive boards,” used as performance props, are presented in the gallery space as both ephemera and totemic objects…the work remains a playful interpretation of Warburg’s attempt to “diagnose the schizophrenia of Western civilization.” -Catherine Taft, Artforum.com

This performance is a site-specific work created for the basement of DIA Beacon. The text of this performance is a collage of fragments made up from art historian Aby Warburg’s lecture notes delivered in 1923 to doctors at a Sanatorium in Kreuzlingen, Switzerland, thirty years after his travels in 1896 to the American Southwest, where he visited the Hopi Indians. The lecture was given to demonstrate that he had recovered from a nervous breakdown. It describes the ideas generated by his journey, which had altered his views of cultural history. Jonas interprets and responds to Warburg’s text.
-from Joan Jonas, The Shape, the scent, the Feel of Things, Dia Art Foundation, 2006

The Shape, The Scent, The Feel of Things

True to her form of translating the language of video (editing, montage) into performance and passing performance through the lens of video, the newest iteration of Joan Jonas’s The Shape, The Scent, The Feel of Things, 2004–2005, is a sophisticated, layered, and at times exhaustingly complex reflection on diverse cultural source material. Commissioned by and performed at Dia:Beacon in October, 2005, this project is the result of Jonas’s research into German art historian Aby Warburg’s essay about a fin de siècle trip to the American Southwest. Warburg’s musings served as therapeutic tool aiding his recovery from a mental breakdown, and Jonas’s installation retains this condition of transformation. Formally, the initial performance—an epic narrative affair that supplements her standard female protagonists with a cast of mystical and historical characters, melodramatic musical accompaniment, and both prerecorded and live-feed video projections—shape shifts into static and sculptural elements. Two short “archive boards,” used as performance props, are presented in the gallery space as both ephemera and totemic objects…the work remains a playful interpretation of Warburg’s attempt to “diagnose the schizophrenia of Western civilization.” -Catherine Taft, Artforum.com

This performance is a site-specific work created for the basement of DIA Beacon. The text of this performance is a collage of fragments made up from art historian Aby Warburg’s lecture notes delivered in 1923 to doctors at a Sanatorium in Kreuzlingen, Switzerland, thirty years after his travels in 1896 to the American Southwest, where he visited the Hopi Indians. The lecture was given to demonstrate that he had recovered from a nervous breakdown. It describes the ideas generated by his journey, which had altered his views of cultural history. Jonas interprets and responds to Warburg’s text.
-from Joan Jonas, The Shape, the scent, the Feel of Things, Dia Art Foundation, 2006

Wolf Lights

DIA: Beacon, New York

Lines in the Sand

Narrated by Jonas, Lines in the Sand is a deeply subjective meditation no less about the fate of self than of civilization. By chronologically and geographically transposing the story of H.D. and her alter ego, Helen, on to present day Las Vegas, whose Luxor Hotel provides the perfect mise en scene, Jonas subtly and not so subtly transcribes contemporary reality into myth. Picking up where H.D. left off, Jonas’ suggestion that a now liberated Helen has turned up in Vegas is perfectly in keeping with myth’s ability to blur the boundaries between fact and fiction. But despite its humorous aspect, the date of its production and its title, make Lines in the Sand somewhat conspicuous with respect to any myth regarding war. Made in 2002, at a time when there was talk of a sequel to the first Gulf War, Jonas’ title cannot help but refer to the declaration of war President Bush the elder issued to Saddam Hussein for his invasion of Kuwait. Premiered at The Kitchen, New York

Glass Puzzle

In her early films, Jonas uses the medium of film - often black and white and silent - to examine the human body, its ritualistic movements, and the spaces it occupies.

Volcano Saga

Volcano Saga (video performance) was first performed at De Appel, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (Performer: Joan Jonas. Assistant: Yelena Matulic).

Organic Honey

First performed in 1973 at the Toselli Gallery, Milan, Italy.

Mirror Check

Mirror Check was first performed in 1970 at the Emanu-El, YMCA, New York and the University of California, San Diego, California. Photo by Roberta Neiman

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550 West 21 Street
New York, 10011
USA

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