Joan Jonas: Two Works

Concetto, Corpo e Sogno (Concept, Body and Dream)

Curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev


Concetto, Corpo e Sogno (Concept, Body and Dream) is a series of five exhibitions which will be held successively throughout the spring and summer of 2006. Solo shows will be dedicated to conceptual artists. Each exhibition gathers together works and more recent, or previously unseen projects, and is accompanied by an interview with each artist.

Thanks to the support of the Fondazione CRT Progetto Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, many of the works exhibited have become part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Differently from the more linguistic tendencies of Conceptual art, some forms of processoriented work developed at the time, in particular in the field performance. Amongst the first and most innovative performance artists was Joan Jonas (New York, 1936) who began as a sculptor but abandoned that practice in the late Sixties in order to transform her work into a meeting point between spectator, artist and space. Her works have proposed a non-linear structure of echoes and refractions which have been in clear anticipation of the contemporary celebration of ‘rhyzomatic’ versus rationalist perspectives, making Jonas a highly influential figure today amongst young artists all over the world. In 1968 she began using reflective surfaces in her performances, to create a choreography of gesture and action which hints at the uncovering of myths and rites, and vertiginously expands the space of the art work. Her first performance, Oad Lau, was held in 1968. In this piece, a man and a woman wearing costumes to which small mirrors have been attached, walk against the wind blowing them and other performers to an fro as their costumes reflect the surroundings. The use of reflection developed in Mirror Piece I (1969) and Mirror Piece II (1970). In these early and seminal works of Jonas, the viewers were reflected in mirrors and became a part of the artist’s performance, within a dizzying space which refracted and multiplied itself and their sense of selves. Jonas has always been interested in the ways different cultures, also primitive ones, have expressed themselves, and she has drawn on as varied elements as the Japanese Noh theatre, the Hopi Snake Dance, European fairy tales and Greek mythology. Her unique performances mix ritualized actions with the use of sculptural props and other transitional means through which she has explored the relations between reality and its reflection, the real and the imaginary. These events took place in art galleries, as well as in private friends’ lofts and various outdoor spaces such as streets (Delay Delay, 1972) or the beach just outside the city (Jones Beach Piece, 1970).


Soon afterwards, in 1972, Jonas replaced the mirrors with video cameras which made live recordings of the performers, and then re-projected their images during those same performances, as feedbacks. These unique videoperformances were a new language in art, a medium through which to explore and question the boundaries between self and other, subject and object of the gaze, intimacy, memory and perception, authenticity of experience and the impact of recording technologies on selfhood, and they significantly came about at the birth of our mediated technology-saturated culture. During her performances, Jonas the performer often interacts with her projected image, thus disrupting classical boundaries and doubling perception and levels of reality and fiction. From 1972 to 1976, she explored being the sole performer in a series of works developed around a dolllike alter-ego figure she created (Organic Honey) in works such as Organic Honey’s Visual Telepathy (1972) and Organic Honey’s Vertical Roll (1972). With masks and other props, and through the reflections of the live feed, she explored the female image as a fragmented

identity as well as women’s shifting roles in a series of works which positioned feminist and psychoanalytical issues at the forefront of art. By the mid-1970s, Jonas had begun presenting installations of sculptural props, drawings and videos (both projected and on monitors), including recorded material from her own previous performances, without necessarily involving her physical

presence in the work, and still today she alternates performance and installation.


For Rivoli, the artist performs a new version of her piece Crossed Waves (2003). In galleries 37 and 38, of the third floor of Castello, two installations of videos, and sculptural elements both document and recollect as autonomous artworks her performances Mirage (1976) and The Shape, the Scent, the Feel of Things (2004-2006).


Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev