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January 11, 2010  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions
JoanJonas_iterations of a theme
Joan Jonas. Mirage. 1976/2005. Installation with six videos (black and white, sound and silent), props, stages, photographs. The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of Richard Massey, Clarissa Alcock Bronfman, Agnes Gund, and Committee on Media Funds. Installation view, Yvon Lambert, New York, 2005. © 2009 Joan Jonas. Courtesy Yvon Lambert, Paris and New York. Photo: David Regen.

Joan Jonas. Mirage. 1976/2005. Installation with six videos (black and white, sound and silent), props, stages, photographs. The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of Richard Massey, Clarissa Alcock Bronfman, Agnes Gund, and Committee on Media Funds. Installation view, Yvon Lambert, New York, 2005. © 2010 Joan Jonas. Courtesy Yvon Lambert, Paris and New York. Photo: David Regen

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.

Comments

I remember 1975 and how it blew me away then. Joan was and still is one of my all-time favorite artists. Looking forward to seeing this! Congratulations to both Joan and Barbara.

Beautiful and evocative writing which feels like yearning for a time past yet very present in this time. Thank you for bringing this work into the museum. I will send young people to see it and think about it.

All I can say, is Thank you MoMA and Barbara for exhibiting ‘Mirage’ for those of us who could not be at Anthology Film Archives for the original performance. I find it compelling that the museum, and the artist could collaborate in order to re-create a historically significant performance in time. (Just think of all of the other projects waiting to be reinstalled!) My hope is that the MoMA not only continues their maintenance of the tangential elements regarding the recollection and recreation process, like Barbara’s post, for example, but that the museum continues to make these treasured moments in cultural memory available via the internet.

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