Since the late 1960s, Joan Jonas (b. 1936 New York. Lives and works in New York) has created groundbreaking multidisciplinary works that investigate time-based structures and the politics of spectatorship. Her projects often simultaneously incorporate elements of theater, dance, sound, text, drawing, sculpture, and video projection. They rely on alternate identities, narrative symbols and threads, but they also refuse linearity, privileging instead the doubled and fractured tale. Initially trained as a sculptor, by the late 1960s she became known for her work in performance, and completed her first film work, Wind, in 1968. A pioneer of video art, Jonas began using the Portapak video system in 1970 to explore the shifts that occur from the camera to the projection to the body and the space of the live action. For her recent videos, performances, and installations, Jonas has frequently collaborated with musicians and dancers and has drawn from literary sources and mythic tales in realizing her multi-layered explorations.
For Sequences VIII, a solo exhibition of Jonas’ work is presented at the Living Art Museum, which includes a selection of works from throughout her career—from her early videos Wind (1968) and Songdelay (1973) to Stream or River, Flight or Pattern (2016), a project that she conceived on recent travels to Venice, Singapore, Nova Scotia, and Vietnam. In her early works, Jonas explores the rhythms of film—recording and projecting a standard number of frames per second—to record the discrepancies between aural and visual time. This is particularly evident in Songdelay, an experiment in the production and receipt of sound. Though sound itself is not visible, the camera registers differences in distance, scale, sound, and time as subjects clap two blocks of wood together, first near, then far. In Wind, a seemingly invisible, natural force is rendered visible in the subjects’ efforts to move against the gusts. Shot at silent speed but sped up in the projection at 24 frames-per-second, this work mimics the rhythms of early cinema. Mirage (1976/1994/2005), which is also included in the exhibition, was originally conceived as a performance in which gestural drawing and repetitious physical movements were intercut with a variety of video projections and sculptural components such as paper cones suggesting the form of volcanoes. In 2005 she reimagined this work as a discrete installation, which combines elements of memory, games, experimentation, drawn actions, and syncopated rhythms. This work was inspired by the “Endless Drawings” described in the Melukean Book of the Dead from New Guinea, where it is said that in order to go from one world to the next, one must finish a drawing in sand at the boundary between life and death.
As the United States representative for the 2015 Venice Biennale, Jonas presented an installation, They Come to Us Without a Word (2015). This work focused on the tenuous, rapidly changing state of our planet. This piece and an earlier project, Reanimation (2010/2012/2013) drew inspiration from Halldór Laxness’ novel Under the Glacier, particularly his writing about animals and the miraculous and fragile aspects of the natural world. Jonas’ recent work and most significant project since her presentation in Venice, Stream or River, Flight or Pattern continues her long-standing interest in temporality and the environment. The videos for this work combine footage of Jonas’ performances in projections, mosaic floors of Venice, redwoods in California and various trees in Spain, birds caged in Singapore, a graveyard in Genoa, and footage from her recent travels to Cambodia and Vietnam. The non-linear narrative of her intercut footage recall vivid memories from past trips or the contents of a dream, which the artist describes as relating to “our world of animals, of life, of death, of beauty, and sadness.” Hanging from the ceiling in the double-height space in the Living Art Museum are delicate paper kites, which Jonas found in a village in Vietnam that specializes in traditional kite making. Echoing her videos, the kites are souvenirs from her travels, which she brought back with her, hand-painted, and altered by hand. Jonas will also present Moving Off the Land (2016/2017) an ongoing experimental lecture demonstration at Tjarnarbíó on Sunday, October 8, featuring a new collaboration with Icelandic composer and musician María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir.