Initially trained as a sculptor, Joan Jonas was involved in the development of performance art in the late 1960s alongside other artists of the New York avant-garde, such as Robert Smithson, Richard Serra, Yvonne Rainer, Gordon Matta-Clark and the members of Fluxus. She acquired a Portapak camera in 1969 and made her first video, Organic Honey’s Visual Telepathy, two years later. In her first works, performance and filmed images are always closely linked; performance is often preceded and extended by videos and films, and sometimes by installations.
Between 1970 and 1974 Jonas produced five outdoor performances, working with the rural and urban landscape. The fourth of these, Delay Delay, was made along the Hudson River in Lower Manhattan, on the banks of the Tiber in Rome, and at documenta 5 in Kassel. Reprising certain aspects of this performance, Songdelay was filmed in 16 mm and uses a highly cinematic vocabulary (wide angles, varying camera distances and a disjunct between sound and image). The action takes place on the riverfront in Manhattan. The performers, among them Jonas, make sounds, notably by striking pieces of wood, and draw circles and lines on the ground. The audience was kept at a distance from the place of representation, which it watched from a raised position. The discrepancy between the actions watched by the viewers and the different sounds that reach them help define the spatiotemporal relations and provide a sensation of the topography. The rhythm, the distance and the different forms of desynchronisation enable Jonas to deconstruct space and duration in a performance that is at once precisely choreographed and open to improvisation.
Johann-Karl Schmidt (ed.), Joan Jonas. Performance, Video, Installation 1968–2000, exh. cat. Stuttgart, Galerie der Stadt Stuttgart, Berlin, Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst (NGBK), Ostfildern, Hatje Cantz, 2001.
Okwui Enwezor, Francis Morris et alii, Joan Jonas, exh. cat. London, Tate Modern, Munich, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Hirmer, 2018.