“Joan Jonas, NA: Ice Drawing” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

“Joan Jonas: Ice Drawing” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
September 24, 2017 – September 3, 2018


By: Léa MIRANDA, Intern, National Academy of Design, New York

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 2.44.17 PM.png

"I have always thought of myself as an electronic sorceress" Joan Jonas said once. After 50 years of career, the artist has bewitched both museums and mainstream audiences, by mastering the fusion and the blend of different mediums and techniques. She just received the 2018 Kyoto Prize in the fields of Art and Psychology, Advanced Technology and Basic Sciences, for her “immeasurable impact” in pioneering the integration of Performance Art and New Media.

Joan Jonas is a native of New York City, born in 1936. She holds a bachelor degree in Art History from Mount Holyoke College and a M.F.A. in Sculpture from Columbia University. Between 1958 and 1961, she joined the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. There, she immersed herself in drawing, both as a method of observation and investigation of the different subjects.

Back in New York's downtown art scene of the mid-1960s, Jonas began her career as a sculptor, but soon decided to expand her area of work. Mixing live performance, drawing, installation, video, and music, she often created a dialogue between rhythms of rituals, myths, objects, gestures, and texts from all around the world.

In 2015, she represented the United States of America in the Venice Biennale with an installation entitled “They Come to Us Without a Word” -a video installation involving drawings and sculptural elements- which was praised as “a triumph” by Roberta Smith, art critic and writer for The New York Times. Her recent works shift to focus on our complex relationship with the earth and the natural world.

In this perspective, Jonas gave her interpretation of the novel “Under the Glacier” (1968) by Icelandic author Halldór Laxness by creating a multi-channel installation “Reanimation” (2013). Accompanied by her musical collaborator, the pianist Jason Moran, this installation, originally performed in Boston at the MFA in 2014, traveled to various locations: Kassel, New York, Milan, and Paris. “One of the first thoughts that comes to mind is that glaciers are melting… ‘Reanimation’ involves the fragility of life in a rapidly changing situation,” says Jonas.

The mixed-media installation “Ice Drawing” (2012) is one of the artworks which compose this narrative masterpiece. A beamer projects a video against a wall of the darkened Krupp Gallery of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Between the projector and the image, a crystal sculpture has been mounted to refract the light and create an icy atmosphere. In a close-up video, the artist’s hands pour a glass of black ink on a light surface, before adding ice cubes. She mixes one with the other and quickly, the entire work plan is covered by a shiny and gooey ink stain. Finally, textures and elements coalesce into a fragile and ephemeral abstract drawing.

“Once a performance has taken place, video images, drawings, props, costumes and sets from it are transformed into an installation. The reverse can also happen: An installation can become a performance” said Farah Nayeri in The New York Times. As a poetic response to climate change, the artist uses ancient and contemporary technologies to show our tangibility and our ineptitude in the natural world.

Her ambiguous and mesmerizing works are on view this summer at the MFA Boston and in a retrospective at the Tate in London.