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The oneiric inspirations of Joan Jonas In Milan “Light Time Tales”, an exhibition dedicated to the multimedia installations of the great American artist.
Works which solicit emotion and a confusion of the senses
by Pietro Marino
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Milan. Hangar Bicocca. Joan Jonas “Light Time Tales”

The visionary world of a great American artist, Joan Jonas, is on display for the first time in Italy in all its breadth and complexity with an anthological exhibition in Milan, in the immense spaces of the Pirelli Hangar at Bicocca, and is open until February 2015. And from May next year she will represent the United States at the Biennale di Venezia. A proper acknowledgement of the 78-year-old pioneer of an art in which, since the Sixties, performing experience and narrative combining personal life and collective history, a metamorphosis of the imagination ranging from city to nature have been shown on film and video, in installations and “chambre theater”, in words and writings.

Of course Joan Jonas is Professor Emeritus at the MIT in Boston, a confirmation of the underlying conceptual fabric of works that solicit emotion and a confusion of the senses. Ever since her first production, filmed in a shaky and muted black and white in 1968, Wind: a group of “actors” in long white robes covered in mirrors try to put on a sort of ritual dance on the snowy beach of Long Island while their steps and gestures are impeded by a strong wind blowing off the ocean. It was a time in which art in New York took on board all contaminations between genres and languages. It came out of the studios and theatres; it trespassed, as Rauschenberg said, into a no-man’s-land, which separated it from life, dancing on the roofs with Trisha Brown, playing the silence with John Cage. And Joan Jonas drew chalk circles, stretched poles, pulled trumpet-like cones, moved mirrors and tried out distances between visions and words. Then from the anonymous spaces of the city she went on to wander round the world. To distant lands where they breathe the primary elements of nature – the wind and the water, the snow and the volcanoes, the rocks and the sand. And to where the mythical force of sagas, legends and rites still play their part even in present-day stories and politics: Nova Scotia, Iceland, Ireland, ancient Japan, and even Egypt in Las Vegas…

Light Time Tales”, is the title of the exhibition curated by Andrea Lissoni, who proposes a score of multimedia installations with oneiric overtones. Actors like Tilda Swinton, dancers, singers and fake animals (“the monkey the fox the rabbit”) and real ones (her beloved dogs) are the protagonists. Outside the screens there are scattered fragments of objects; a stuffed coyote, conical apparatus, a chaiselongue, blackboards and walls where white chalks have drawn butterflies and erasures. It’s hard to grasp the unitary sense of the world of Joan Jonas, labile and shadowy. A large installation, 2005, reveals her debt to Aby Warburg, the slightly crazy German genius of iconology, who maintained that archetypal myths recur, re-invented, in cultures in every time and space. Like the “Ritual of the Snake” that Warburg studied in the early 20th century among the Hopi Indians in New Mexico. A journey that Joan Jonas made again, along the thread of melancholy that connects Durer to Nietzsche. The long, off-screen narration that comments on the work called Lines in the Sand (2002) finishes with these words: “I see the pitiful heap of little things, the mountain of monstrous gear. Then both vanish. There is nothing, nothing at all. I have seen the world through my thick lens. It looked like everything was broken except that”.

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