JOAN JONAS Masks, Dolls and Baskets

Book presentation and reading Tuesday April 9, 2013


An acclaimed multi-media performance artist, Joan Jonas is also a major figure in video art. From her seminal performance-based exercises of the 1970s to her later televisual narratives, Jonas' elusive theatrical portrayal of female identity is a unique and intriguing inquiry.

Trained in art history and sculpture, Jonas was a central figure in the performance art movement of the mid-1960s. In works that examined space and perceptual phenomena, she merged elements of dance, modern theater, the conventions of Japanese Noh and Kabuki Theater and the visual arts. Jonas first began using video in performance in Organic Honey's Visual Telepathy (1972), in which a live camera and monitor functioned as both a mirror and a masking device, a means of transforming and layering images, space and time.  In the same year Jonas began making single-channel videotapes. Reflecting the conceptual performance and body art movements of the 1970s, Jonas' early video works break new ground in their application of the phenomenological properties of the new medium to a self-reflexive study of female identity. Jonas' investigation of subjectivity and objectivity is articulated through an idiosyncratic, personal vocabulary of ritualized gesture and self-examination. Often performing in masks, veils, or costumes, Jonas uses disguise and masquerade to study the personal and cultural semiotics of female gesture and symbols. The layering of mirrors and mirrored images is one of her most powerful metaphorical devices. Among Jonas' signature formal strategies are the manipulation of theatrical and video space, the use of drawing to add a rich density of texture and content, and objects that convey meaning as cultural icons, archetypes and symbols. From her earliest, face-to-face confrontations with video as a mirroring device, to her densely collaged narrative texts, Jonas herself always appears as a performer, confronting the viewer in an enigmatic theater of self-discovery.

In the Spring of 2007 the publisher of Carpe Diem Press gave Joan Jonas 40 black and white disposable Ilford cameras which Miss Jonas used for one year. The resulting photographs that portray -among other things- part of her prop collection, make up the complete edition of Masks, Dolls and Baskets. Each of the twenty plus seven editor’s copies that form the edition holds a unique selection of original silver prints. The book includes a text written by Jonas in 2010 and that she will be reading at the show opening. The exhibition includes the book, three performance props from Jonas’ collection and a selection of images from the Ilford cameras that were not included in the book edition.