Joan Jonas: The Inner Worlds of Video

Joan Jonas: The Inner Worlds of Video

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>> Good evening from Washington, D.C. I'm Charlotte Ickes, curator of time-based media and special projects at the Smithsonian Natural Portrait Gallery. >>I'm Saisha Grayson curator of time-based media at the Smithsonian Art Museum also in DC. We're both excited for this program and that you could join us here in cyberspace. Although we're tuning in from different places, we want to take a moment to gratefully acknowledge the Native peoples on whose ancestral homelands we each sit, as well as the diverse and vibrant Native Communities who make their home in DC, New York and across the continent. For

myself, I'm in Queens, New York, or Lenapehoking, the traditional lands of the Lenape peoples past and present. And we are so pleased to welcome you from wherever you are for tonight's event with Joan Jonas. This program is part of Viewfinder: Women's Film and Video from the Smithsonian, a yearlong virtual screening and conversation series featuring an array of moving image works by women across t Smithsonian collections. And this is generously supported by the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative, Because of Her Story. And I just want to say it's been so energizing to work on this with Charlotte and our colleague Marina Isgro at the Hirshhorn Museum. We've been organizing this series and having it roll out with Joan is so great. In this first sequence of programs we decided to focus on the idea

of entire interiority, understood physically, psychologically or otherwise, a theme that felt particularly resonate during this global pandemic. Each virtual program of the series will occur on the first Thursday of every month. Next month's program is Zina Saro-Wiwa, On Mourning and Memory, at 5:30 p.m. eastern time on Thursday, March 4. For more information

on that and upcoming events in the series please visit For this program, we will have live closed captions available and that can be accessed along the bottom of your Zoom menu. As can the question and answer function, and we really encourage you to submit questions. We'll get to as many of them as we can during the second half of the event. And ss someone with a deep iPhone addiction, I want to make a gentle suggestion for the length of these videos that we put aside other screens and really give ourselves over to these works from a time when intimate relationships with screens was a new concept. So both videos have this rhythmic hypnotic quality that is just best

experienced by staying with them. So that's my invitation to you. Charlotte? >> Thanks, Saisha. I'm thrilled you've joined us tonight for these special Joan Jonas’s iconic videos Left Side Right Side and Vertical Roll, both from 1972 and part of the National Portrait Gallery’s and the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s respective collections. And I want to especially thank Joan for generously allowing us to screen these works here tonight.

It's a difficult task to put into words how Jonas has transformed and expanded our capacity to imagine what an artwork and artist’s practice could be. Over her career, Jonas had hundreds of exhibitions and performances around the world, including the recent retrospective at the Tate Modern in 2018. And in 2015, she represented the United States at the Venice Biennale. Technology and becoming, magic and revelation, formalism and the feminine, return and repetition, not to mention recurring appearances of masks, monitors, mirrors all beautifully entangle in Jonas’s groundbreaking videos, performances, and installations. In a moment

when interior life, as Saisha said, is acutely felt, I'm curious to think about what Jonas said of her earlier experiments with video "when I started working with video, I thought of crawling into the monitor, I imagined the monitor was a box that I could crawl into." What does it mean to inhabit a medium one knows so well, a medium as material as physical and psychic space, what and where are the limits and openings once you've crawled inside? It's been a privilege and pleasure to think deeply about these works, and I'm looking forward to discussing these questions and many more with the artist and my dear colleagues Saisha over the next approximately 75-ish to 90 minutes or so. So for the evening's operations, we'll first watch Left Side Right Side, which is about 9 minutes long, followed by a brief conversation with myself, Joan, and Saisha. Then we'll screen Vertical Roll for about 20 minutes in duration before moving onto further discussion and questions from you our audience, so thank you so much, and please enjoy the rest of the evening.

Video playing: This is my right eye. This is my left eye. >> This is my left eye. This is my right eye. This is my left eye. This is my right eye. This is my left eye. This is my right eye. This is my right. This is my left. This is

my, my right side. This is my left side. Neck. (Humming) (Drawing)(Humming) >> Hi. >> Hi. >> Welcome to the screen. (Laughter) Are you there Saisha ?

>> I am? Are we all here? Okay. Great. So after watching this work again, and I was talking to friends, it really takes on a new, prior to this, a new resonance in the Zoom era. (Laughter). But I'm thinking about this lovely quote of yours where you say, "in order to do a performance, even for the camera, I have to create a very specific place, kind of a little theater, set within the landscape framed by the camera." So I'd love to hear, I know our audience would, what kind of little theater did you make for Left Side Right Side.

And what arrangement of objects and why did you arrange them in that way? >> Well, Left Side Right Side is a slightly different example. Not really a little theater, but it's a setup of the technology, of the mirror, and the monitor and a black board in which I sat and situated myself and worked in relation to that situation, which was, the idea of comparing on one level the monitor and the mirror, and putting, you know, pointing out the way one reverses left and right, and the other one doesn't. And so that interested me at the time. And this idea of pointing and, what I was doing, I did that in a performance actually. I first did that action in a performance because from the very first use of the video, and when I got the video, I thought of it in terms, in relation to film and as a new technology. What are the peculiar aspects of this? So in the case of Left Side Right

Side, I'm simply, well, a performer in the situation, working within that space. And I didn't really place -- the props are only the mirror, they are within a distance that I could easily pick them up. Very practical placement. >> Right. And this was not your -- if I recall you didn't -- this was not at your studio? This was off site somewhere? >> Well it wasn't in my studio, because at that time, technically, I could not have done it in my studio. I didn't have two cameras and a switcher. So we did it live at the studio. >> I don't know about you, Saisha, but at least for me, the act of drawing and I think the familiar sounds associated with it so that kind of almost grating sound of chalk on chalkboard is pretty grounding in this otherwise hard to piece together, disorienting video. And drawing of course is kind of like the elemental gesture of art, that of the

line. So I'm curious why you brought the technology of video together with drawing in this work? What was their relationship? >> Well, from the very beginning when I switched from sculpture to performance, and then later a year or two later to video, video became part of that, I brought drawing into it. And I drew in my performances from the very beginning and in my videos. And so I drew in relation to the medium of video in this case, well it's not really in this case, but I drew in relation to the monitor. So I made drawings for the monitor, for instance, that you could see on the monitor and I could make a little drawing and a performance and it would be blown up on the monitor. Or, one idea was to look at the monitor not to look at my paper and to draw for the monitor. In this case, you know, I also used blackboards and chalk.

So in this case with the black board behind me, I'm sitting with the black board behind me. I also made these drawings in my performances, and then in videos based on drawings I had found in a book of collected essays about rituals and ceremonies, and a tribe in New Guinea, from the Melukean Book of the Dead, so these drawings, there are different examples of that, different loop structures on a grid that I had learned how to make and made them in performances. I had no one to ask permission, and I thank whoever originated those drawings as you were previously thanking the people whose land that we're all on. Anyway, so I used these endless drawings, is what I call them, I don't know if that's what they call them, in my work because they're performative. And they were made, I like very much bringing the idea of a myth and ritual into my work. They were made by what they call the devouring

rich at the corner where life and death come together, so that if you died, you had to know how to finish the drawing. The Devouring Rich on the other side of the rich would start it, you would have to finish the drawing. And the history of that you don't know. But it is a ritualistic drawing. >> That's so interesting because one thing I was struck by was that the sound of the drawing and the act of the drawing coincide with the beginning of the humming, which really also brings in this kind sense of embodiment and returns it to the performative beyond just the relationship with the video, which you're teasing out so much in the first part.

And then you start talking about sun and moon, so there's the sort of placing the human in relationship to these different elements. And so it's really meaningful to hear you talk about it as ritual c=vecause that was when that sensibility really seemed to come into it for me. >> Yeah, I mean, I thought about the sun, the moon, the opposites, the form of the sun and the moon, I made many drawings in my performances of the sun and the moon and I changed the sun into the moon by erasing lines, and so on and so forth. But at that time, I was very

involved with the underlying content of my work was based on myth, the history of mythology from different cultures, but it wasn't visible in that way. It's not a narrative. It is simply a spirit that I related to in relation to the landscape I also had that relationship. And it was how I began to bring content into my work. >> So as the curator, a curator at the Portrait Gallery I would be remiss if I didn't ask this. Of course, this work was made in 1972. And I'm really interested to think about it in the context of the Portrait Gallery collection and maybe some of the additional meanings that it takes on in that context. And I'm thinking about you've said you never wanted to be Joan Jonas in the performance. And that's a really kind of amazing abdication of the

ego, especially in a Portrait Gallery which in many ways celebrates the self. I would like to hear more about how you see this work now in this particular context and the afterlives it might have? >> Yes, you've asked me that before, and I thought about it since then. So I'd say that just to have me sitting there wouldn't be to me so interesting. So this is a portrait in a way. You could call it a portrait, I accept that term although I wouldn't call

it a portrait, but it could be, it's a portrait of a time, it's a portrait of my interests and my way of making things. It's a portrait of technology, at the time. I mean, I think it's interesting when it begins there are all these glitches, it kind of goes in and out. That was early video technology. And I think it's important that that is seen, actually now. So I'm happy that it's in the Portrait Gallery. It's a different kind of portrait, which is actually to be expected.

>> Truly, and it's amazing, I mean we'll see when we go into Vertical Roll soon, so at points you're wearing a mask. You don't have a mask here, but you are drawing on your face. And you're staging really like this alienation from your own image in some ways, struggling to identify the basic parts of your own face in the face of this technology and the mirror. So I think it's such an incredible portrait and shows the kind of constructed nature of all portraits, actually, even if they're the most, of the most traditional type. So, we're very lucky to have it. (Laughter). Saisha, you disappeared for a minute. >> I did. I lost my internet. >> Some trouble in the interweb world (Laughter).

>> I'm so glad you're back. Yes, speaking of technological glitches. (Laughter). >> Yeah, I think I lost you both right around the time -- or maybe I came back as you were talking about technological glitches and that might be a good opportunity to kind of shift thinking and talk about Left Side Right Side and Vertical Roll were made in the same year. I’m curious if you could talk about the evolution and the relationship between them and maybe some other works like your performances as Organic Honey, and other ideas that were near that were sort of generating these, and particularly in the term, in the case of Vertical Roll led to the genesis of that particular form. >> Yeah. Well, Vertical Roll and Left Side Right Side both came out and were part of

in their development of a project that Organic Honey started out as Organic Honey's Visual Telepathy, it became Organic Honey’s Vertical Roll, which was my first video work. Partly it was involved with the idea of what is the female in relation to the Women’s Movement, which was a very important movement that was -- had been going on for decades, but was at its certain point at that time. And I wanted to bring those questions into the work, what is the idea of the feminine or the female? What does that mean? And it's the same with like, if you say, I'm not me, it's not me. I mean, who are we? You know. We construct ourselves. I think that's what video technology made very evident that we construct our images and of course, actors do this in a different way. But the idea of being an artist and making

video, you're not really an actor. And so when they look at you, they see what the audience sees, you, they see you. I wasn't interested in that. I was interested in constructing something else. And you could say hiding or constructing a persona that was I called it a persona in the Organic Honey, Organic Honey. And so it was kind of like the opposite of me. I did it with masks and costumes. And Vertical Roll, we'll look at in a minute,

is a sequence of different movements that were part of the performance in a live situation, and also just part of Vertical Roll because, as I said before, I was constantly questioning how video was peculiar, what are the peculiar aspects of video? Now of course that difference has disappeared. But then it was very evident. Filmmakers hated video, filmmakers I knew they hated video, it was so technologically terrible and indistinct. But all of us who were video artists ,that's why we liked it. That's what drew us to it. And I always tell this story, maybe too many times. It's one of the things that inspired me when I first

started working with the closed-circuit video camera, I heard a story about Marilyn Monroe watching her make a film. Somebody who was watching her sitting in front of the camera they saw her profile and the camera. And then they saw what the camera saw. That interests me. That was very inspiring to me. That the camera sees something quite different from what we see looking at the subject in relation to the camera live and so on.

>> Well, I can't wait to talk more about so many of the things you just said. But let's first watch the video together and then we can talk about it. >> We'll see you guys in 20 minutes. >> Video playing: Clanging sound. Higher frequent frequency Clanging sound. >> Hello everyone.

>> Hello. (Laughter) >> We're back. That work is such a tour de force, and you know, really as you said gets so deeply inside the very idea of video and what it is that is unique about it, the simultaneity you were talking ab out and also this particular glitch. I wanted to ask what moment did it

crystallize that the Vertical Roll, which is that technological glitch that we see throughout, the moving bar, for anybody who wasn't around at a period of time when you had to sync your TV to the video playback, you might be frustrated in that moment, might not realize, that was something that happened you know, accidentally, it was a point of frustration and you turned it into this incredible creative tool. So I just want to hear you talk more about that. >> Well, it was part of the technology of early video. At that time all you had to do was to turn a dial to turn it on, I mean you were always sometimes struggling with getting it off, or making it stop or whatever. It was never going regularly like that. It was sometimes start up -- anyway, by turning the dial you could control the speed, more or less. Not completely but more or less. And so everybody knew about the Vertical Roll

from the very beginning. It's not any kind of discovery. It was simply there and was part of the technology. The monitors, it's the knob on the monitor, so in the video it's not in the camera. You have to film -- I recorded this whole thing off a monitor, so there were two cameras. There was the camera recording my movements and the space and the camera,

and that image was passed to a monitor and then the second camera filmed the whole thing off the monitor. And that's why in the end, I put my head in between to show that, to show that situation. When I come in between the camera and the monitor. >> It's such a startling moment.

>> Yeah, well, anyway, so it just took me -- I didn't start right off to use the vertical roll as a technique. But then, at one point I thought, I have to make something about the vertical roll and I started working on that. >> Sorry. >> No, go on. >> It seems so particularly productive for the conversation you're talking about earlier, the idea of feminism and the idea of a constructed image, how media constructs certain ideas of the feminine body. And here's this glitch that actually deconstructs literally and breaks

up the image and, you know, does so much in alignment with some of the ideas you were thinking about. Was there a moment when you thought, particularly about the deconstructive aspect of it and what that could do for this work, for the mixing of the performance and the monitor work? >> I have to tell you frankly I didn't think of the word "deconstructive" until years after, I mean, it wasn't part of my working vocabulary, but what I did think of was perception and how we perceive. So part of this is the perception and how that alters your perception. I was very interested in how I could alter the perception of the audience, the vertical roll certainly does that because you look at it and things keep changing. They don't really change, but the vertical roll has that trick of making you see things differently. I found it -- we worked, we made it -- actually it happened to be Robert Irwin's old studio, in a beautiful white room in Venice, California. We rehearsed that for two weeks there. There are no edits in this piece. It was interesting to me at the time also, that was the thing about video

was it could be a continuous stream. And the vertical roll, those lines are in the technology, but they -- I thought of them as frames in a film going by. And so we made it. We had to rehearse it of course to get it exact, Roberta Neiman was the cameraperson at the time. And yeah, she followed me around the room. I had to change clothes, costumes, in between shots, we put something in so she could put the camera on and so forth. That is how it was made. And I thought of it, this time looking at it for the very first time

after seeing it hundreds of times, I was noticing that because the sound, I put on afterwards, the first sound you hear is the sound of the spoon hitting the mirror. And then after that, I'm hitting a block of wood to get -- two blocks of wood together, which I used in outdoor pieces. And I had to sit down in front of the TV monitor and do that as I was watching it and do it in time to the vertical roll. So I was just watching it, oops, I didn't

quite get that that time. (Laughter) you know. Usually the way it made it jump, it made it look like it was jumping sometimes. The other thing I did was to always have the monitor that I could look at in the space. So all my movements were made for the monitor. And I was looking at the monitor, I had another monitor in the space, a small monitor that the camera person and I could watch. All our moves, my moves were for that vertical roll.

I had to watch the monitor, jumping in and out, I had to watch my framing all the time and so on. >> Yeah, that brings us back to something Charlotte said in the introduction, this idea of sort of being inside the monitor, inside of that box and really making your movements, you know, in relationship to it and expressing a sense of interiority in that experience. Can you all hear the sirens, I'm promised there would be sirens. >> I fear you might hear my daughter screaming. (Laughter) The sounds of life. We're getting

a lot of, you're bringing something up Joan, a lot of audience questions that are really great that we'll get to. But some of them circle around the question of improvisation versus rehearsal. So interesting to hear you talk about kind of the precision of Vertical Roll. I'm curious how that tension, were there moments of improvisation of Vertical Roll, and also going back to Left Side Right Side, what is the relationship between rehearsal and improvisation? >> Well, rehearsal for me was getting it together and making it, and deciding exactly really pretty much how it was going to go. It was about making images. And I wanted those images

to be precise. And also the timing. You know, it has to do with time. Of course, it could be improvised, it's another way of working. Other people work differently. But I would prefer to be constructing the images, rehearsing them before so I can get them. And, of course,

there's always moments that you have to make little adjustments and things like that. That's improvisation. But generally, my method is not improvisation. >> I mean, I have in the past, you know, as I loosened up over the years, yes, a little bit more. But in the beginning particularly, I was interested in constructing. >> Yeah. So in addition to -- >> But you have -- to make -- you have to improvise to get to that point. I mean, the first thing you do is you improvise, I did, in front of the camera. You improvise movements.

You improvise working with props. You had to do that in order to make something. It didn't just come string out of your head like that. It was slowly constructed. >> Yeah. I want to come back to this relationship with the camera and the monitor because there's both the glitch in Vertical Roll but also those very close relationships, as you were just describing, between what you're seeing instantaneously and then what you’re doing and being able to modulate exactly to that experience. You talked about the revelation, how different it is from film which has to be processed and sent out, weeks later you see what you look like. That's no longer the experience of the screen. And so I was curious if you can talk about you know, what that seemed to break open in terms of subjectivity or a sense of self that you were so interested in? And then, maybe if you could share your thoughts, what do you think about the new relationship with screens where people are you know, from birth basically able to understand themselves as an image that's mirrored back to them? You see babies scrolling.

>> I'm not -- I have -- I always think, I have no idea what it's like for them because it's in their heads not in mine. But it's a completely natural everyday experience for them. For us, to get that video closed circuit in our studios was a revelation, I have to just say, all the video artists we can think of who started out that way with the camera and monitor in the studio. I was interested in film. I didn't formally study film but I certainly studied it on my own by going to look at films, and looking at as many as possible, going the Anthology Film Archives. I also wanted to make a film. Getting this

video set up enabled me to what I called "request to make my own little films" so I was able to make what I called ‘little films’ at the time. And I went on from there. >> That's so interesting. Another thing that struck me watching these two back-to-back again was that they're sort of call outs to film, the vertical roll you know, very much looks like a frame that's gotten stuck and is moving along and so you're seeing the kind of breakdown of the magic of the still image going fast enough. And then in Left Side Right Side, there's the turning on and off of the lamp which is really sort of this light and shadow that's basically the essential pieces of filmmaking. And so, I was curious why you really ended up dealing with film and video together? You didn't sort of break them apart but you wanted to think of them at the same time.

>> Well each technology comes from the last technology. Film came out of theater in a way. People, early very early films, the directors were looking at theater. There was much more reference to early theater and even filming theater scenes was part of the film. So I

related the video technology to the film because there is a relationship. We don't have to go into it now. But, I say that this as a natural segue. And because I was interested in film, and film was more or less my reference technology before I got the video camera, before video became -- I mean, TV, television was another thing. I mean, television was a huge influence on theater and film, Ernie Kovacs, his shows were a big influence, the idea of somebody sitting and looking into the camera the whole time and doing everything like this for the television monitor, of course that came into it also. So it was a combination of these two things. But I never wanted my videos to actually look like film. I just thought of a way to segue myself to get an idea was to compare and think what can I do with video that's not film, the vertical role, you know, then point out the left side right side and so on. There are things that you can do more easily. You could do these things

in film. You could do a wipe, you could do all kinds of things, also turning the light on and off. So one thing I keep saying is that I want to make -- I'm not interested in making special effects-like technology. I'm interested in making special effects by

hand. And of course I don't always do that. And I sometimes do the other. But that was my interest, to show you what I'm doing, to show the process of the making. >> Thank you. So I'm conscious that we have a lot of great questions and we're coming up on dinnertime. (Laughter) But I know Saisha and I are particularly interested, I and think this will be our last question we ask you is, you know how has quarantine, has it affected your practice in any way? Perhaps in your approach to space that we've been really talking about this kind of being inside a monitor. Or perhaps it hasn't. But I do know that we're

all feeling interior life quite a bit. And I'm always curious how that has changed the way artists make their work. >> Well for me, I've been making a lot of drawings and concentrating on that, which I enjoy a lot and it's an important part of my practice. I'm working a show in Singapore, I mean in Beijing for the Biennale, which is all drawings. There will be a video element

in it. But I simply -- I feel very cut off from that aspect. I don't go out. I don't go out with my camera. I don't work with my editor and so on. So yeah, how has COVID affected me? One thing I've enjoyed I'll just say the positive things of being isolated. >> Please. (Laughter). >> Well, concentrating on drawing. And then reading a lot. And also being in touch with people in a different way. I think that technology of this, what we're doing now, and Zoom, you

know, we would have -- we knew how to do it before, we didn't have to. But now we have to. And I think that will be something that will continue in different ways. You know, because theater people, I know some people are making plays for the Zoom. I'm sure that will segue into something else. And so that's how it's affected them. But I haven't gotten into that I have to say.

>> Well, thank you so much. I don't know, Saisha, if you want to one of the first questions? >> I'll start with a nice easy one from the audience. What is the level of humor in your work? Which may give us a little levity after the COVID question. >> Well, comedy is one -- I love comedy. I mean, the form of comedy. And when I was -- when we were -- we got our first TV set when I was 11. We sat in front of the TV set and

watched Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca from the very beginning. A lot of you don't know who that is. They were brilliant comedians. And my stepfather was an amateur comedian, very amateur. So comedy was something as a form I was always interested in. For instance, a lot of comedians are nasty people, you know what I mean. So that interested me, the psychological aspect. And in my work, I don't think in my case, you can ever -- I can never try to be

funny. But one of -- I know some people think I'm funny. And it just comes spontaneously. But I think one friend of mine thinks my work is funny. I think it's because it's weird sometimes and kind of stiff, and straight faced. That's all I can say. I'll just say that, it's something that interests me. But I don't do it consciously. And I hope that

-- oh, I think it's very informed, what was her name? Ruth, there was a woman, an older woman who was a comedian. And her name was Ruth. I can't remember her last name. I really think that when you get old, like I am, it's better to be funny than tragic. But if I was a great actress I could do that. But, it's better to be funny. >> (Laughter) So again, we're getting lots of ‘this is amazing,’ ‘wonderful,’ ‘thank you for doing this.’ Here's a question. So I'm just going to read it: The camera here

struck me as a sovereign entity, the architect of the work who employs pieces of your body as several hypnotic objects in your construction. Can you talk more about why you release your identity of Joan Jonas to the camera? >> What does that mean? Why I got rid of it? >> I guess so. Maybe going back to the question about, you know, you saying I don't want to be Joan Jonas. >> Well, I mean, what does it mean for me to sit here and say I am Joan Jonas? I wanted to -- also it didn't enable me to play a part. I really need to play a different part. So whenever I do a performance or a video I make a space and step into it. It's like you step

over the line from the everyday life into the performing life. And it really is another -- it's another medium. It's just like I have to translate my work from video to performance. I don't just -- they don't just happen -- they're not the same. Video, the art of video, the art of performance, film, they're different mediums. And it's the same with the body, with the persona. Me, everyday is not me performing. When I do performances, I don't think of me,

you know. I think of this -- I think of actions that me wouldn't do, maybe. >> I just will -- no, it does. It's great. I will say I figured an audience member would know. Ruth Buzzy is the name? Is that the comedian that you were referring to? Our audience has offered that? >> Ruth Buzzy. >> Buzzy, B U Z Z Y. No? Okay. Another Ruth. (Laughter). >> She died a few years ago.

>> Okay. We'll keep -- we'll go to Google. (Laughter). >> I think building off a lot of what you were just talking about there's a nice question here that takes us away from this flat screen experience that we're having and asks can you talk about the installation of your videos and the viewing spaces you explored early on? How you made installation decisions in your early stages of your work and how that relates to themes of embodiment in your work. I would open up if you want to talk about how that changed over time for you? >> Well, when I first translated my -- I have to say that my stage sets, I call them stage sets, were like installations. So it was part of the work. I didn't call them installation, but it was part of the work from the very beginning when I began to work with video and set up the camera and the monitor, the props and the objects, it was a stage set.

That's what I mean when I make a space that I can step into. When I first translated them for the show in Amsterdam in '94, for Organic Honey, just to take one piece, the kind of sounds I made for the videos were percussive. And so when I first made the first installation I could play all the video, I put everything that was part of the piece into the installation and arranged them. So Organic Honey was similar to the stage set that had a table with all my props arranged, the chair that part of the performance, then a big projection of the video of the performance, and monitors with Vertical Roll. And I didn't put Left Side Right Side in, but that was separate. But one called Duet in which I howl with myself. So I just put all the elements together just to skip to now. I wouldn't do that now because,

for instance, I work with Jason, lately I’ve been working with Jason Moran, and you can't put anything else next to his music except for maybe abstract sounds, because it is what it is. And so with him for instance, I work more on the video backdrops. Instead, I was thinking about that and how to explain that. Instead of thinking of stepping into the monitor, you know, then it was much physicality, the video equipment was physical objects, the monitor, the camera. We no longer have the monitors. So now I step into the projections. And I'm in the space of the performance. And so I construct the installations -- yeah,

the projections are like backgrounds. And the second narrative, that's a double narrative. So before when you were saying the narrative of me performing with the details projected because there was a live camera, now in the performance and the installations you see these multiple narrations that are edited for the projections so that I'll have three or four protections maybe, and arranged in a certain way. It's about arrangement. What is -- you know, installation, arrangement. Also it has to do with what kind of props you have. What do they mean? How do they fit? Is the prop in the picture? Out of the picture? It's very hard to put it all in just a few words. I don't know if that helps. >> It does. I'm going to combine a couple of questions here. Thinking about your collaboration,

your more recent collaborations with Jason Moran, we've got some questions about, you know, when Vertical Roll and Left Side Right Side were made, who were you -- who was influencing your work? Who were you thinking about or in conversation with? And what was the reception of the work at the time? >> At the time in the 60s, I spent a lot of time going to happenings. I think the form of happening was a big -- one of the reasons I went into performance, because I that you could put things together, sound and movement and so on. I was very interested in the dancers at the time who happened to be mostly women but Yvonne Rainer, Simone Forti, Deborah Hay, Trisha Brown, and Steve Paxton, I was inspired by them as dancers. And then the Happenings, Claes Oldenburg, you know, his work. I really wish not to look like any of them. So I had to form my own language. But, when I was in the milieu, it was exciting. Everybody, really, I think the minimalists, I also had to get away from that. And Jack Smith was an artist

who inspired me. Some of you don't know who he is. You should look it up. (Laughter). It's hard to know though because these things are hard to see years later. But Jack Smith and Oldenburg. Many, when people say who influenced you? Of course, they're influences. But I

looked at everything. I have to say, I looked at -- I really studied art history, I was very influenced by Renaissance paintings, by the space of Renaissance paintings, for instance. When I first started making performances and videos, I thought of framing a space like a painting, you know. But not like a flat screen painting, a painting that had architectural

space, although they didn't look like that at all. >> That's interesting. I'm going to sneak in one of my questions along with the audience question which is about your training in sculpture because you just talked about space but you also talked about Renaissance paintings. There's the moment in Vertical Roll where you're sort

of spinning around, the camera is spinning around you, it feels sort of like a Bernini sculpture. So I was also curious if figurative sculpture helped you think through the treatment of the female body. But any sort of ways in which your sculpture training came into play. >> My favorite sculptor for years was Giacometti. That really does not bring you to the female body (Laughter). I love his work. And the idea that the figure was this very, very thin almost invisible figure was occupying a big space, that interested me. I think the whole

idea of walking into a room and walking around something was part of my training and also experience that inspired me. But I have to say I was more interested directly in paintings. So, Giacometti. I would say. >> That's great. You kind of, I know we're coming to the end, but you touched on this briefly. We have a question. Through your videoing of yourself in these early works, and the adoption of Organic Honey, what did you discover about the question of the female, of femininity? What did the video medium and performance grant you in terms of understanding gender or gender difference? >> I'll just say in general, for the video for women at the time, when it came out was really so important because, so many women could then put their energy into, you could say, screaming you know about how they felt about being a woman in our culture. For me it was a chance to -- because at the time, there was all this discussion of male and female. I remember reading Moby Dick in college and talking about the mass on the ships being

male. And it irritated me to have to do that, to assign a gender to objects. And so I wanted Organic Honey is really about -- is this female? Am I making myself more female by wearing this mask? Yes, I look -- I thought it did make me look more female than I usually looked. But a mask and a headdress in a very traditional way, dressing up for the camera. And so, when I started working with narration, with the fairy tales, Icelandic sagas, and so on, I always chose to work with female characters, to r portray them, to really look, to portray, it was always in the present but using this ancient material, how are women depicted? I mean, very different in fairy tales, the wicked stepmother, you know, the good mother, blah, blah. And then later on it became more nuanced in the Icelandic sagas, and so on.

So that's really partly what it was. I still, I think that I stopped calling myself a feminist, of course I'm a feminist, and I was just recently reading something about women and how, you know, how they're treated. It's really unbelievable, but anyway, still. But other issues became really important to me too, other important issues. And I'll have to say at the time of this COVID, I think certain political issues have become more visible, and more important. Visible to us, I'll say that, which is very important. >> That's so important and important to remember as we move through these different historical moments and come to the present and try to figure out what needs our attention. I wanted

to look ahead. There was a nice question focusing on your relationship between your work and the interest in the medium of video. Is there a new, recent technology that piques your interest now as video did then? >> I have to say it doesn't come to mind right now. >> Fair enough. (Laughter). >> No, I mean -- I had to confess that I've been doing Instagram just because, I like the communication. You know, making a little image -- it's another way of making an image,

I have to say. >> Yeah, and I think you know, for this generation, it is really interesting to think about what the perceptual shifts are that are coming from this kind of constant subject-projection and subject-shaping that we do through those kinds of social media avatars, and I do think about your work as a real early instance of turning our attention to that process, even if the technologies have changed significantly. >> I mean some of my friends joke that my work is all about selfies. (Laughter).

>>We can know that now. But then it was -- >> We didn't know it then. (Laughter) yeah. >> Well, I think we've taken enough of your time tonight. I will say there's some suggestions

of Ruth Gordon as a -- >> That's it. Ruth Gordan. >> Thank you, Sam and Lynne. (Laughter). But, I know ,Saisha and I have just been so excited for this. It's been a really bright spot and very -- >> Highlight of 2021. >> Yeah! Probably for the rest of '21. So, thank you so much Joan for allowing everyone to see these just incredible works.

>> Thank you very much. >> Thank you to the audience for an amazing amount of exceptional questions. Sorry we couldn't get to them all. >> Truly, truly.

>> Thank you. >> So thank you, Joan. We're so appreciative and it was just a real pleasure. So. >> Thank you. >> Thank you everyone. >> Everyone be well. >> Enjoy dinner.

>> There will be a recording that goes up once I have time to edit the transcript which I will do as quickly as possible. >> That will be available for a month. So please check out the Viewfinder website for the recording and also to sign up for our future events.

>> Have a good night everyone. >> Good night. >> Bye-bye.

2021-02-16 01:53

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