September 2020

Joan Jonas in conversation with Stefanie Hessler

Care, Caring, and Repair in Cognitive Capitalism

In conversation with the curator Stefanie Hessler, the performance artist Joan Jonas presents material relating to projects in Cochin, Venice, Madrid, and Japan pertaining to her ongoing project, an archeology of the sea, which developed out of her teaching practice at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Via technological innovation that allows bioluminescence to be captured on video and collaborations with contemporary composers, as well as marine biologists and academics, the artist shares her fascination with aquariums and marine life with the children she collaborated with in realizing some of these projects. The discussion focuses on the artist’s relationship with nature and the ocean in particular. Among the topics considered are the impact of technology on the oceans, overfishing and pollution, and the continuing role of mirrors in her work, as well as the influence of Borges, among other literary writers, and the relationship between art and science.

Joan Jonas, believing that sculpture and painting were exhausted mediums, became known for her pioneering work in performance and video art. Jonas, who studied sculpture and art history, was deeply influenced by the work of Trisha Brown, with whom she studied dance, as well as John Cage and Claes Oldenburg, particularly their exploration of nonlinear narrative structure and form. Jonas’s own work has frequently engaged and questioned portrayals of female identity in theatric and self-reflexive ways, using ritual-like gestures, masks, mirrors, and costumes. Over time, Jonas began to introduce more symbolic elements into her work; frequent motifs include dogs, the sun and moon, skulls, landscapes, and hurricanes. Themes of memory, autobiography, mythology, and dreams became more central themes in her work in the 1980s.

Stefanie Hessler is a curator, writer, and editor. Her work focuses on interdisciplinary systems from an intersectional feminist perspective, with an emphasis on the ocean and other ecologies, as well as on expanded definitions of life and nonlife, nonhumans, and technology. Hessler is the director of Kunsthall Trondheim in Norway. Recent curatorial projects include “Down to Earth” at the Gropius Bau in Berlin (2020); “Joan Jonas: Moving Off the Land II” at TBA21–Academy’s Ocean Space in Venice (2019) and the Museo Thyssen in Madrid (2020); the 6th Athens Biennale (2018); the symposium “Practices of Attention” at the 33rd Bienal de São Paulo (2018); and “Sugar and Speed” at the Museum of Modern Art in Recife. From 2017 to 2019, she was guest professor in art theory at the Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm. She has edited books like Tidalectics: Imagining an Oceanic Worldview through Art and Science, published by MIT Press in 2018. Her monographic book Prospecting Ocean was published by MIT Press in 2019.

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