Joan Jonas

(b. 1936, New York, lives and works in New York)

Joan Jonas was a central figure in the performance art movement of the mid-1960s. During this period she examined space and perceptual phenomena, merging elements of dance, modern theater, the conventions of Japanese Noh and Kabuki theaters, and the visual arts. Jonas began making videos in the early 1970s when new video-camera technology made recording and playback relatively easy and affordable. She exploited the technological possibilities of the new medium drawing from literature and theater using video as a tool that moved beyond the documentation of performance. Her investigations are articulated through an idiosyncratic vocabulary of ritualized signals and self-examination and the study of personal and cultural semiotics of female gestures and symbols.

Vertical Roll (1972) is structurally very simple: a horizontal strip, resulting from filming a TV set, punctuates transitions between frames to the sound of a hypnotically synced monotonous beat, while Jonas presents excerpts from her Organic Honey (1972) theatrical performances. These performances are all structured around the vertical roll that insistently sweeps the screen over a period of 20 minutes, and are mostly framed in a spatially disruptive manner. The incessantly jumping picture frame, with its repeating horizontal black bar, both confronts and distances the viewer, creating a tension between subjectivity and objectivity. Jonas has stated, “…all of my performances are concerned in part with the image as metaphor. There is an emotion in the image that cannot be translated. The image contains it. The performer sees herself as a medium, information passes through.” (1983)

In one sequence, the camera zooms in on the performer’s torso, focusing on her lower back and chest, fragmenting her body. The shots are repeated through the use of the vertical roll, emphasizing the female as perceived through male fantasy. In the tape’s final moments, Jonas confronts the viewer face-to-face in front of the aggressively rolling video screen, adding yet another spatial and metaphorical layer of fragmentation and self-reflection to this work.