Art21 Extended Play

Joan Jonas Performs in the Streets of New York

Still from Organic Honey’s Vertical Roll (1973) by Joan Jonas. Production still from the series ART21 Exclusive. © ART21, Inc. 2015. Artwork Courtesy: Joan Jonas and Electronic Arts Intermix, New York.

“I wanted to develop my own language and the minute I started performing I began to invent in a different way.” —Joan Jonas

Today’s ART21 Exclusive features Joan Jonas discussing her decision to begin staging performances in the late 1960s. As a child growing up in New York, Jonas’s mother brought her to see performances such as Richard Wagner operas at The Metropolitan Opera and a George Balanchine production of Afternoon of a Faun starring Tanaquil Le Clercq. Describing her experiences of seeing operas and ballets in her youth, Jonas recalls, “Things like that make a big impression on you when you’re young.” For her own performances, Jonas invited artist friends such as Gordon Matta-Clark, Tina Girouard, and Pat Steir to abandoned lots and empty streets in Lower Manhattan where, while being filmed by artist Peter Campus, she would give them props and simple choreography to perform. “In a way we all helped each other and worked together and people really enjoyed being in other people’s works,” says Jonas of her artist friends. “Everybody knew that that moment was special in the 60s and 70s.” Four of Joan Jonas’s earliest works are featured in this episode including Wind (1968), Songdelay (1973), Organic Honey’s Vertical Roll (1973), and Street Scene (1976).

Joan Jonas’s They Come to Us without a Word (2015) opens this week at the 56th Venice Biennale. Jonas, whose installation is presented by the MIT List Visual Arts Center in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State, is representing the United States at the Biennale.

CREDITS: Producer: Ian Forster. Consulting Producers: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Interview: Ian Forster & Susan Sollins. Camera: Jarred Alterman. Sound: Richard Gin. Editor: Morgan Riles. Artwork Courtesy: Joan Jonas & Electronic Arts Intermix, New York. Archival Images Courtesy: Kino Lorber, The Metropolitan Opera, The New York Times. Theme Music: Peter Foley.

ART21 Exclusive is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; 21c Museum Hotel; and by individual contributors.