Born and based in New York City, Joan Jonas pioneered the use of video in feminist performance art during the 1960s and 1970s. Originally educated in sculpture and art history, Jonas found that performance art was a better medium for addressing her concerns about female bodies and space. Her work frequently involves the use of mirrors, masks, and other props, sometimes using these objects to incorporate her audience into the performance. Jonas always places herself at the center of her art, whether it’s taking on the persona of Organic Honey—a mystical symbolic figure of femininity—or utilizing mirrors to examine her naked body. Jonas also explored these themes of female disembodiment through short experimental videos.
Jonas visited the Walker Art Center in 1974 for a multidisciplinary performance of Funnel, in which she incorporated film as performance. This piece involved images of seaside landscapes projected onto three separate screens. Throughout Funnel, she fluctuated between drawing images on a chalkboard and interacting with the film. Using a round mirror on the end of a stick, she interrupted the projection and reflected the images back at the audience while creating a void on the screen. Jonas’s video work also screened at the Walker in April of 1994 as part of a series called “Videocassettes” that featured work from Richard Landry and Keith Sonnier. Her two iconic videos, Vertical Roll and Left Side Right Side (the films included in the series) explore and challenge the mechanical qualities of video. Vertical Roll is a meditation on analog television glitches that cause the image to seizure across the screen. Jonas’s own body is fractured by the moving frame as she appears in masks, feathers, and other costumes. The video is also on view as part of the Art Expanded exhibition at the Walker that documents the expanded arts scene of the 1960s and 1970s. In Left Side Right Side, Jonas translates her performance art onto video. As the sole figure on screen, she challenges the voyeurism of the camera through use of mirrors, video monitor, and split screen editing.
Jonas continues her prolific career in the 21st Century. She is a Professor Emeritus at MIT where she teaches visual art. In 2015, she will be representing the United States at the 56th Venice Biennale.