PLAN 90: Article
Joan Jonas: Selected Films and Videos, 1972-2005

An Exhibit to Complement Her US Pavilion in Venice

This spring and summer, the MIT List Visual Arts Center is presenting seven seminal film and single-channel video works by pioneering artist and SA+P Professor Emerita Joan Jonas, a complement to Jonas’s They Come to Us without a Word, a new work made for the US Pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale (May 9 – November 22).

Selected from Jonas’s four-decade-long, distinguished career in performance, video and installation, the works are featured in an intimate exhibition in the List’s Bakalar Gallery from April 7 through July 5.  The exhibition provides background and context for Jonas’s new work on view in Venice and shares with local audiences the pivotal videos and performances that led to the artist’s selection as the US representative for the 2015 Venice Biennale.

The works on view demonstrate the development of her distinctive way of working with performance and video that draws on dance, ritual and various theatrical traditions. Jonas began to develop her work in relation to the various mediums of mirrors, the distance of landscape, and video in the late 1960s, when she was immersed in the post-minimal experiments of New York’s downtown scene. 

The exhibition includes Organic Honey’s Visual Telepathy (1972), based on Jonas’s first performance to employ video, which combines her investigation of the representation of femininity using masks, mirrors and other props, with video’s properties of instant playback.

In Good Night Good Morning (1976), the artist recorded herself greeting the camera every night and morning over three different periods of time, thus employing the mechanism to chart a mundane ritual that is rendered simultaneously public and private.

For Songdelay (1973) Jonas staged a performance on a large empty lot in lower Manhattan with a cast including artists and dancers such as Gordon Matta-Clark and Steve Paxton. The choreographed series of movements, delayed sounds and various props introduce elements carried forward throughout Jonas’s work.

The film Mirage (1976) shows the artist executing a number of signature, enigmatic chalk drawings and erasing them immediately after. 

Beginning in the mid-1970s, Jonas’s work turned towards more narrative forms, inspired by ancient myths, fairy tales and literature. Using a range of stylized special effects, Double Lunar Dogs (1984), based on a science fiction story by Robert A. Heinlein, envisions the inhabitants of a space ship lost in space for generations.

Volcano Saga (1989), originally produced for television broadcast, stages a retelling of the ancient Icelandic Laxdæla saga while bringing its characters and stories into the present.

Lines in the Sand (2002- 2005), the final and most recent work in the exhibition, is a documentation of Jonas’s celebrated performance taking inspiration from H.D.’s poem ‘Helen of Egypt,’ first staged for Documenta 11 in 2002.  

Joan Jonas: Selected Films and Videos, 1972-2005 is curated by Henriette Huldisch, Curator, MIT List Visual Arts Center.