Joan Jonas is approaching her 80th birthday and yet the concept of art as an area for research and experimentation has never abandoned her. Born in 1936 in New York, a city known as the ‘sacred cow’ for any artist, she is a full professor with the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology. She has confirmed the necessity for a place of creation, a departure point as well as a destination for each of her explorations into idioms and territories that are increasingly less defined in the sector of artistic practice. Even with her installation conceived for the United States Pavilion in the gardens of the Biennale, Jonas reaffirmed her ability to skillfully and forcefully – albeit with a certain risk at times – combine sculpture and performance, video art and drawing, writing and sound art in her construction of perceptive contraptions that also express intense and appealing narratives.
They Come to Us without a Word is a captivating immersive journey, a synaesthetic experience built upon absence and it constant and wonderful revolution – a game of paradoxes and enigmas that are never completely disquieting. And yet it hints at an assortment of interpretative strategies, outlining heterogeneous genealogies (rather than quotations) ranging from Arte Povera to Shadow Play and from pantomime to sound installations. So, if the exhibition’s incipit (which is also its clear-cut epilogue) is a monumental bundle of majestically surging trunks in front of the neo-classic façade of the unmistakable Palladian building hosting the United States Pavilion, that marks the exposition’s itinerary as a perceptive flow which knows no solution of continuity then it is the contrast between the archetypical darkness flooding the rooms at times and the practically blinding light of the projections in which characters and shadow, sketches and actions are superimposed – as immaterial as they are cumbersome – that occupy the space, amplified by the deceptive Venetian mirrors marked by the presence of suspended and unstable objects, colours, shapes and drawings. Epiphanies and figures are of the same material from which dreams and ghosts are made of, as Joan Jonas explains («We are haunted, the rooms are haunted»), immersed in a thick net of sounds and words that render Icelandic writer Halldòr Laxness’ epic about metamorphosis in fragments and laconic rituals – the declared inspiration for Reanimation, the germinal nucleus from which the artist found her moves for the creation of her Venetian project – in which the time of change and the fragility of nature are manifested in unfathomable complexity: “Time is the one thing we can all agree to call supernatural. At the very least, it is not energy nor matter; nor dimension or even function and yet it is the beginning and the end of the creation of the world” (H. Laxness).
A complex work that is clearly an ensemble piece, the result of a series of workshops that involved children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 16 as well as the collaboration of jazz pianist Jason Moran who composed the music accompanying the performance of They Come to Us without a Word II that the artist will feature at Venice’s Piccola Teatro dell’Arsenale from 20-22 July.
56TH INTERNATIONAL ART EXHIBITION – LA BIENNALE DI VENEZIA, JOAN JONAS’S THEY COME TO US WITHOUT A WORD, Presented by the MIT List Visual Arts Center, Commissioner and Co-Curator: Paul C. Ha, Director of the MIT List Visual Arts Center, Co-Curator: Ute Meta Bauer, Director of the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, Nanyang Technological University
Images (cover 1, 3, 4) Joan Jonas, They Come to Us without a Word, 2013-2015. Production Still. Courtesy of the artist (2) Joan Jonas – Headshot