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Art projects that make a difference

Joan Jonas: Five Decades

Pinacoteca de Sao Paulo, Brazil, September 2020-February 2021.

For the last five years, Joan Jonas has created a large body of work, that like an enchanted reverie blends live performance, drawing, installation, video, and music. She says that she doesn’t see a difference between them.

In 1981, Joan Jonas showed a single channel video at the 1981 São Paulo International Biennial. After nearly four decades, the artist presents her inaugural solo exposition in Brazil. The show brings 50 years of artmaking, from the single-channel videos of the 1970s to the latest version of her most recent work, Moving Off the Land II, the inaugural project opening the Ocean Space in the Church of San Lorenzo in Venice, organized by TBA21-Academy and its network of partners. This installation is partly an experiment, the artist says, on the edge of the documentary form, based on her extensive research into the oceans and marine life, and partly on myths about the ocean, especially the figure of the mermaid.

This exhibition at the Estação Pinacoteca (SP/Brazil) covers those decades with consistency and range. Explaining why she feels confident that the exhibition represents her work, Jonas said: “The selection of the work is from different periods and represents several ways of dealing with form and content. We have included early video from the Organic Honey series of the early seventies.

A later period is represented by Volcano Saga (1985–2011), which was, for her, an early experiment with narrative or how to translate a story into a video work. Stream or River Flight or Pattern represent a way on how she works with material collected while traveling – in this case, Canada, Vietnam, Singapore and Spain. The latest work, Moving Off the Land II, is based on her research concerning the ocean and the environment.”

From the very beginning she has been influenced by literature, both poetry and prose. For instance, as she said, Jorge Luis Borges was the inspiration for the first mirror pieces. “From the start, in my studies of art history and literature I have been interested in myth and how it functions as a metaphor to represent an idea or an aspect of character.” This way of looking behind the anecdote to find the myth means that Jonas is interested in every form of storytelling, whether movies or TV or newspapers or drama.

Building on the potency of mythical stories from various cultures, Joan Jonas empowers works from the past with the politics of the present. By wearing masks in some works, or drawing while on stage, she breaks the conventions of theatrical narrative to emphasize powerful symbols and critical self-awareness.

Berta Sichel

Joan Jonas
Cinco Decadas
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