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  • Writer's pictureCristea Zhao

12. Joan Jonas


Joan Jonas

Organic Honey's Visual Telepathy, 1972

Performance, video

Original performance at Palais Galliera, Paris, France



As a pioneer of video and performance art, Joan Jonas is an important influencer for me. I am intrigued by her early video and performance works in the 70s, which helps set the tones of my artistic practice.

The way she mediated between and integrated different mediums is just smooth and seamless. In an interview on early New York performances she mentioned at the very early stage, even before working with video and performance art, she already sensed interests in how to translate her works into another medium so that it would not disappear. Indeed there’s this harmony flowing between performance, dance, video and installations that happening in an inclusive space. It goes so natural that they generated a whole new language invented by Jonas, through body movement, music, sound and some simple props like mirrors and masks.

In this new language she invented, ‘ritual ceremonies’ is its ‘grammar’. This has a lot to do her intention of searching and questioning the possibility of a female imagery, a female archetype. Her interests in these ritualistic dance from different cultures lays into this role of women throughout the history. Women are witched, shamans, midwives, storytellers… As Banyi Huang suggested, these marginalised roles are firmly embedded in our collective consciousness.


It is interesting that she mentioned when her alter ego ‘organic honey’ performed, she always looked into the camera and made sure performing inside of the frame while filming and recording. In another interview (https://www.tate.org.uk/tate-etc/issue-42-spring-2018/interview-joan-jonas-rachel-rose-the-performer) she also mentioned that in comparison with two mediums film and video, she values video more as ‘the most radical thing – for me – was that artists could sit in front of the camera and see themselves.’ I never really thought about the immediate feedback of the artist/performer him-/herself, I wonder how this self-awareness functions here.


My work ‘Evocation’ (later on changed the title to ‘Mother is a Container’) has a great connection to this concept. And except for the influence about female imagery, how she deployed mirrors to extend the space, reshaped the space into a self-reflective realm, and hence to mediate the dynamic between the viewers and the performers are very important for me to reframe my work.

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