May 7, 2015 - United States Pavilion at the Venice Biennale - Joan Jonas’s They Come to Us without a Word
May 7, 2015

Joan Jonas’s They Come to Us without a Word

Joan Jonas, They Come to Us without a Word, 2015. Production still. Courtesy of the artist.

Joan Jonas
They Come to Us without a Word

May 9–November 22, 2015

United States Pavilion
Giardini della Biennale
Venice
Italy

joanjonasvenice2015.com

Presented by the MIT List Visual Arts Center
Commissioner and Co-Curator: Paul C. Ha, Director of the MIT List Visual Arts Center
Co-Curator: Ute Meta Bauer, Director of the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, Nanyang Technological University

Joan Jonas’s They Come to Us without a Word is presented by the MIT List Visual Arts Center in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State at the 56th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia. Jonas, a pioneering figure in video and performance art, is occupying the entirety of the Pavilion’s five galleries with a new video installation involving drawings and sculptural elements. A new performance by the artist will take place in July at the Teatro Piccolo Arsenale in Venice, with new music by Jonas’s long-time sound collaborator, American jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran. Jonas has been a tenured visual arts professor at MIT for the past 15 years, and is currently Professor Emerita in the MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology (ACT) in MIT’s School of Architecture + Planning.

Co-curated by Paul C. Ha, Director of the MIT List Visual Arts Center and Ute Meta Bauer, Director of the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, They Come to Us without a Word evolved out of an earlier work, Reanimation, first presented as a performance in 2010 at MIT, where Jonas has taught for 15 years. Reanimation was partly inspired by the writings of Icelandic author Halldór Laxness and his poetic portrayal of the natural world. They Come to Us without a Word evokes the fragility of nature in a rapidly changing situation, with each room of the Pavilion depicting a specific subject, such as bees or fish. Fragments of ghost stories sourced from an oral tradition in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, form a nonlinear narrative linking one room to the next. 

In each of the four rooms of the Pavilion there are two video projections—one presenting the main motif of the room and the other the ghost narrative, a continuous thread running through the exhibition spaces. Free-standing rippled mirrors, conceived by Jonas and handcrafted in Murano specifically for this project, are placed in each room alongside Jonas’s highly distinctive drawings and kites, as well as a selection of objects that were used as props in her videos. This arrangement creates the sense of a stage set. Similar mirrors cover the panels of the Pavilion’s rotunda, where old Venetian crystal beads hang on a chandelier-like structure suspended from the middle of the ceiling. The ambience reflects the viewer and the exterior of the Giardini intersected by video images. An outdoor piece in the courtyard, consisting of tree trunks from the nearby Certosa Island held tightly together by copper wire, echoes the themes of the exhibition.

Jonas developed the videos in New York in winter 2015, during a series of workshops with children ranging in age from five to 16 performing against video backdrops of landscapes shot by Jonas mostly in Nova Scotia, Canada, and Brooklyn, New York. Sources also include several early videos by Jonas. They Come to Us without a Word is animated by a soundtrack designed by Jonas, using excerpts of music by Jason Moran and songs by the Norwegian Sami singer Ánde Somby. The customized lighting is conceived by designer Jan Kroeze. 

The video footage shown in the Pavilion is being reedited for the performance They Come to Us without a Word II, as Jonas further explores the themes of the Pavilion. Jason Moran will develop the music for the project and play live in the performances. Details are available at joanjonasvenice2015.com.

Supporters
Lead support of the U.S. Pavilion has been provided by Cynthia and John Reed, the U.S. Department of State, and the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation.

Additional funding has come from generous members of the 56th Venice Biennale Matron and Patron Committee and other individuals listed on the exhibition website.

The exhibition is produced with the collaboration of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice (Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York).

Media contact: venicepress2015 [​at​] mit.edu 

Joan Jonas's They Come To Us Without A Word at the United States Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale
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