Critics’ Picks

Installation view, 2006.

Los Angeles

Joan Jonas

Rosamund Felsen Gallery
1923 S Santa Fe Ave #100
April 22–May 27

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. In nearby spaces, four separate videos projected during the performance (Electric Wires, Wolf Lights and Melancholia_, all 2004–2005, and Mirror Improvisation, 2005) are taken out of the Dia diagetic context to present discrete meditations on ritual, organic movement, animals, and landscape. These distinct installations give the viewer a chance to slow the blitz of images and allusions. Despite Jonas’s abundant references—from her dog Zena to the Hilda Doolittle poem “Helen in Egypt,” and from Albrecht Dürer to the Hopi Snake Dance—the work remains a playful interpretation of Warburg’s attempt to “diagnose the schizophrenia of Western civilization.”