Joan Jonas is a pioneer of video and performance art and one of the most important female artists to emerge in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She was particularly influenced by her experience of the New York art scene in the early to mid-1960s and by the work of John Cage and Claes Oldenberg and their interest in ‘non-linear’ structure. Believing any potential for innovation in sculpture and painting to be exhausted, Jonas turned to the relatively unexplored area of performance art. Her early performances (1968–71), called Mirror Pieces, were held in large spaces and included large and small mirrors, either as a central motif or as props or costume elements. From the early 1970s her works became increasingly symbolic, game-like and ritualistic: in, for example, Organic Honey’s Visual Telepathy (1972) Jonas took the role of ‘Organic Honey’, a part-real, part-mythical and part-fantastical woman, who explores the possibilities of female imagery and eroticism, keeping her narcissism in check by scanning her own image in a video monitor. Jonas’s performances, films and videos are characterized by de-synchronized, non-linear, fragmentary features. She also often used drawing as ritual in her performances; the motifs of dogs, the sun and moon, the skull, landscapes and hurricanes, for example, have appeared in her works.
Joan Jonas performed Mirror Piece I outdoors at the Loeb Student Center, NYU, New York. This was the beginning of Jonas’ transition from sculptor to performance artist. Mirrors were used as props to generate and augment movement, but were also of interest to Jonas in terms of how they delineated and reflected space. She explains: ‘When I first began this work I thought of stepping into the space of painting; the mirror pieces were abstract in the sense that they broke up the surface space and altered perception for the viewer.’ The large mirrors in this performance appealed to Jonas because of the association with narcissism and also because of the physicality of the large mirrors which set the audience on edge since there was a risk they might shatter. Through several articulations of this piece, Jonas examined space and perceptual phenomena while merging elements of dance, painting and sculpture.
Further Reading: Jonas, Joan, ‘Space Movement Time’, Joan Jonas, Anna Daneri ed., Milano: Charta, 2007, pp.48-50.