Joan Jonas works by developing iterations of a theme. I saw the first version of Mirage as a young MoMA curator in 1975. It was performed at the Anthology Film Archives Theater, then in SoHo on a boutique-free Wooster Street. Joan transfixed me, moving slowly about the stage, stomping her feet to the rhythm of a heartbeat. Images from the cameras focused on her were projected onto a large screen and several monitors dotted around the stage. Interacting with her apparitions, Joan transformed the performance into a dense, many-actor theater piece. Then she disappeared behind the projection screen to appear merely as a silhouette.
In women’s groups at the time we all were questioning male authority, what made women special—our brains or what we stood for—and, most pressingly, why we wore makeup. Joan’s bold action of quietly removing her clothes and scrutinizing herself in a small mirror was a transgressive act, and compelling.
Now as an installation at MoMA, Mirage evokes the mystery of Jonas’s original performance. While I’m still pleasantly disoriented by the seemingly random goings-on, they evoke curious memories. The long paper cones she toots on remind me of the resonant sounds of the gagaku, elongated metal horns I heard played at ancient shrines in Japan. Her simple chalk drawings have me reliving hopscotch and, nowadays, attempts to balance on one foot in yoga class. The projected grainy videos of erupting volcanoes evoke that sense of wonder felt in school science class—what’s going on here? Jonas’s world and mine is mysterious and vast.