Starting this week, you can make a deep dive in the art performances and videos of Joan Jonas, the MIT faculty emerita who will represent the US in the 2015 Venice Biennale. In her work, Jonas moves through space—using her body, props, sound, and a stage—and through time. She offers abstraction in motion, loaded with cultural insights.
Right on campus, you can visit the exhibit Joan Jonas: Selected Films and Videos, 1972-2005, which will be on view through July 5 at the MIT List Visual Arts Center. If you are not nearby, you can watch a performance of Draw Without Looking recorded in 2013 at the Tate Modern in London.
“I draw from many sources, literature, film, myth,” Jonas comments in a PBS ART21 video rehearsal for Mirror Piece One. “In the mirror pieces, the main idea is the visual of the mirrors in the space and how they are reflecting, how they look.” When she began her performances in the 1960s, she took workshops to learn “how to move, how to be in public.”
An Arts at MIT article, “Joan Jonas’s enduring influence at (and beyond) MIT,” former students and colleagues from her teaching era, 1989-2014, share the experience. Pia Lindman, professor and head of Environmental Art at the Aalto University in her native Finland, was Jonas’s TA:
“To me she seemed open-ended and didn’t want to dictate too much to people. She was not banging into everyone’s heads with this or that theory; instead, she really wanted to open up a space for students to explore, and that was also new to me.
“Now, in retrospect, I understand that was coming from the ‘60s, from the foundation of going into spaces to explore with the simplest tools to see what you get out of it. And what I saw happen was that all these students who had never done performance art—those who did not perceive themselves capable of doing something performative like standing up in front of an audience, and these guys who built things and felt that this was all women’s stuff—they all got over their own inhibitions and actually did amazing performances.”
Learn more about Jonas’s work in the Venice Biennale.