PRINT Summer 2015


IF THE WORD retrospective suggests a certain nostalgia, then it’s fitting that JOAN JONAS, in her celebrated showing at this summer’s Fifty-Sixth Venice Biennale, has rejected the retrospective principle entirely. Her exhibition of new work in the US pavilion is not a career summation but a distillation of the tactics and sensibility that have made her a touchstone for generations of artists. Jonas’s amalgam of installation, drawings, video, and performance immerses the viewer in incantatory visual and sonic rhythms and specular fragmentations of space—an environment in which oppositions, whether between form and content or between humanity and its others, emerge as complex interrelations. Here, art historian PAMELA M. LEE considers the full breadth of a practice best understood not through retrospection but via the concept of revision, while critic JOHANNA FATEMAN zeros in on Jonas’s feminist fracturing of the closed circuit of self-surveillance.

Still from Joan Jonas’s Vertical Roll, 1972, video, black-and-white, sound, 19 minutes 38 seconds. Photo: Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York.

ON THE OCCASION of Joan Jonas’s 1980 retrospective at the Berkeley Art Museum in California, Douglas Crimp wrote what would prove to be the most influential statement on an artist whose manifold practices—video, performance, installation, drawing—had long defied summation. Crimp identified a “single strategy, paradigmatic in this respect, [that] informs all of Jonas’s work.”

“That strategy,” he asserted, “is de-synchronization, usually in conjunction with fragmentation and repetition.”1 Crimp cited Jonas’s early outdoor performances as signal examples of this tendency. He noted that for the works Jones Beach Piece, 1970, and Delay Delay, 1972, performers struck wooden blocks together “in wide overhead arcs” inspired by classic Noh drama, and that, because the spectators were stationed at some distance from the actual event, there was a temporal lag between sight and sound:

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