The Force at work / La Force en action

The Force at work / La Force en action
As the past is removed, a new beginning emerges.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Joan Jonas From Away @ DHC / ART 28.04.2016 > 18.09.2016

A very difficult exhibition to photograph because of the abundance of details and the twilight atmosphere that accommodates the multiple videos. However it must be noted that no photograph of her work will give you the sheer joy of walking through the exhibition. Photos © Lena Ghio, 2016
Joan Jonas is an American artist who lives in New York. She was born in 1936 and has exhibited extensively around the world. This link will take you to an interview in her New York studio. She was the chosen artist to represent the USA for the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015. I went to her Keynote Speech last fall during the excellent Re-Create Media Art History event. There she recounted the major turning points of her practice from the late 60's until today. It was fascinating to see the evolution of her modes of expression and use of medium, but now that I have visited her work in person, I know the films we saw at that time do not do it justice.

This is her first retrospective in Canada. Barbara Clausen, a curator and art historian who works at Concordia University, is the guest curator for the exhibition. She has been working with Joan Jonas for many years.

I had to visit the exhibition twice to share my perceptions with you. I began in the basement, floor G0 on the site map that is available when you enter the 451 rue Saint-Jean building in Old Montreal. On that floor, there is an ongoing selection of videos playing. You may see the film Wind that she created in 1968 that is one of her first film-performance in black and white. When I went, the movie They Came to us Without a Word II was playing. This was an auspicious start to my visit as it set the perfect tone. The theme is revisited later in the next building where the exhibition concludes, 465 rue Saint-Jean, bringing together all the elements that left me thinking of Joan Jonas as the Earth Mother. She is sensitively concerned with nature, the environment, landscapes and children.

The first floor presents us with a large circle made from long white cones that quickly evoke Stonehenge. When you stand in the center of the piece, you can see the two videos installed on either side. The second floor is one of my favorites in a hard to explain way. The first time I entered the space it looked chaotic. Chaos and order emerge like cresting waves throughout her work. As I walked through every room, settling on a detail, stepping back to grasp a whole, listening to a bit of poetry and music, I realized it all felt as if I was in a trance, on a shamanic journey, connecting to the spirit world, the animal kingdom, the mountains and the oceans. We move through the evolution of her art from floor to floor and reach the moving finale in the last serpentine walk through her latest work. At once the synthesis hits you, the irrepressible spirit of Joan Jonas.

DHC/ART has an extensive program of guided tours and educational activities to make you get the most out of the show. There are conferences until June but be sure to see the live performance/conference with Joan Jonas and Jason Moran on May 27th 2016 at Concordia University's DB Clarke Theatre starting at 8:00 pm and it is free.


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