I am ashamed to say that I was not really too aware of the work of Joan Jonas until going to Tate Modern’s current show which runs until August 13th. Run, skip, or twirl to see it. It’s the largest exhibition of Jonas’s work ever to be held in the UK and it is truly inspiring. Jonas is a veteran of the 1960s New York scene:performance artist, raconteuse,choreographer,filmmaker,actor, dancer -with a loyal dog to occasionally supervise. Her art is not easy to absorb: noisy and confusing, vaguely decipherable sounds leak out out of installations. It can be a bit difficult to fathom. I’m not saying I ‘understood’ it all, but the experience is affecting and unforgettable. I went on a bitterly cold day in March having been buffeted by Arctic winds across the Millennium Bridge. Seeing her 1968 film ‘Wind’, the earliest work in the exhibition, was particularly apposite. Since the 1960s, Jonas has spent part of each year working in Nova Scotia, and the Cape Breton coastline is a recurring motif in her work. The film is both comical and uncomfortable. Jonas and fellow artist Keith Hollingworth struggle across a wintry windy beach dressed in costumes with mirrored panels. The outfits remind me of something out of a Russian constructivist play. Another group of ‘performers’ wearing black masks and capes struggle against the wind, practically falling over from its force.. Here is a still from 'Wind'. If you want to see a snippet from the film itself have a look in my Images section from Instagram.
There is a frenetic energy about Jonas's work. Some of it is downright silly, some of it is inscrutable, but in a world of control, surveillance and proscription, it is all wonderfully anarchic and un-directed. Jonas is 82 years old and still full of mischief, surprise and innovation. I cannot imagine her ever saying : 'I'm too old for this'.