Joan Jonas is a central figure in the performance art movement that began in New York in the mid-1960s. In works that examine space and perception, she mixes elements of dance, modern Western theater, and ancient Japanese theater with contemporary visual art ideas. Lilly Wei wrote in a 2004 Art in America article that Jonas is “complex, uncompromising and innovative, spurred by an eclectic and fearlessly idiosyncratic vision.”
In densely collaged narrative pieces, Jonas confronts the viewer in an enigmatic theater of self-discovery. Often performing in masks, veils, or costumes, she uses disguise and masquerade to blur the line between myth and reality.
“I found myself continually investigating my own image in the monitor. I bought a mask of a doll’s face. It transformed me into an erotic seductress. I named this TV persona Organic Honey. Increasingly obsessed with the process of my own theatricality, the images fluctuated between narcissistic and a more abstract representation. The risk was submersion in solipsistic gestures. When exploring the possibilities of female imagery, thinking always of a magic show, I attempted to fashion a dialogue between different disguises and the fantasies they suggested.
I often refer to mythology and become interested in a particular time and place and how to bring it into the present. More recently Lines in the Sand based on “Helen in Egypt” by the poet Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) lead to a consideration that war is fought for an illusion. The Trojan War was a trade war. Helen went to Egypt; her phantom copy existed in Troy. I set the piece in Las Vegas where Luxor the casino stood for a contemporary copy. I did not attempt to play Helen but to translate the situation, referring in a poetic way to present conflict.
During the woman’s movement it was especially important for women to inspire women. It is also imperative that men and women inspire each other. There is still room for self-examination. We must look outward to other cultures in diverse situations and take care of our collective futures.” — Joan Jonas, 1982.