lucas-gallone-228252 copy.jpg


The Tate Modern presents: Joan Jonas

The Juniper Tree - storytelling weaved into artworks.jpg

Georgie Tomas

An exhibition on the more unusual side of things.

From March 14th until August 5th the Tate Modern is holding a retrospective of the performance artist Joan Jonas. Covering the past 50 years of her artistic journey, it shows Jonas’ multiplicity; her interdisciplinary approach and experimental practices. The exhibition attempts to explore questions about the very nature of performance and representation as well as narratives of the history of art.

The show invites the viewer to engage with the work with their “eyes, ears, body and mind” in such a way that will challenge our own bodily perceptions of how we interact with sculpture. What does sculpture mean and what is our relationship with space and object? Joan offers us a reinvention of sculpture that extends beyond the boundaries of the exhibition space, mirroring nicely with how the exhibition is spread out through the Tate itself. Starting with a somewhat traditional format in the galleries, this evolves into more installation-cum-performance in the tanks and finally spills out into live performances in the theatre and even onto the outside riverbank (all of which take place over ten days and six nights).

Joan Jonas herself.

Joan Jonas herself.

As we walk in we are immediately invited to gaze upon a display of props, objects and masks from Joan’s studio. We're beginning to see the relationship that exists between Joan's everyday life and her art. Although currently static, they are pieces that play an intrinsic role in the performance aspect of her work and are here to highlight some of the themes that run throughout; folktales, animalism, masks, the role of the woman and the natural elements which weave through her work.

Collection of objects.jpg

The experimental format of the exhibition emphasises myth and story-telling, and a moving back and forth between the past and present of her own practice. We can view a range of her first performance pieces in room two which will then be re-performed over the next two weeks. It seems one cannot conserve the object or art in a traditional way as she is always remaking and rearranging – allowing for a live culture that is inherent to how she thinks. The opportunity to experience live-theatre all the more emphasises the fluidity of change, movement and remodelling of her works. Even our shadows and reflections play a part in the pieces that are set up within the rooms; nothing can remain so steadfast and permanent, we are there to intervene and interact.

However, it can make for complicated viewing, not to mention writing; works run into one another, drawings are objects, sculptures aren’t sculptures, there are different events, different screens, large scales and the minute. Sounds leak; voices, music and ambient noise. Grasping the plot is difficult, but perhaps not necessary. Tempo and mood chop and change and you will be constantly interrupted and surprised. It’s engaging and does not make for passive afternoon gallery ambling. Perhaps it is better witnessed than explained. So emerge yourself with all eyes, ears, body and mind and you’ll find that Joan’s voice may help guide you through.