Questionnaire: Joan Jonas

Q. What do you like the look of? A. The everyday world: grand and microscopic.


Microscopic view of a snowflake. Courtesy: Electron and Confocal  Microscopy Laboratory, Agricultural Research Service, US Department  of Agriculture

Microscopic view of a snowflake. Courtesy: Electron and Confocal Microscopy Laboratory, Agricultural Research Service, US Department of Agriculture

What images keep you company in the space where you work?

A few masks from my mask collection – one favourite: a large orange papier mâché dog or fox head from a market in Mexico City – and many rocks and stones.
I’ve always collected objects and images, so there are too many to mention but, as you step out of the elevator into my home, you see:
a Native American basket filled with black stones;
a small wooden bird, maybe a sandpiper, with a black spot on its head, mounted on a piece of wood by an unknown artist from Cape Breton, Canada;
a painting on glass of a green parrot with yellow fruit in an old wooden frame that I found on a trip to Damascus in the 1960s; a small figure made of tin standing with a piece of wood held between its bent knees, which is
 a portrait of me by June Leaf, made in the 1980s; a heavy fossil-like stone high up on the left; a small yellow lion cut-out by Howard Finster; a figure by Henk Visch; and a horse’s head from an early-20th-century carousel. I also yearn for a completely bare space. I would photograph everything and store all the objects in boxes, but some things I would miss and I feel they should be seen.

What was the first piece of art that really mattered to you?

The first films I remember seeing are Disney’s Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942). I was very affected by them at the age of six. But those experiences remain with my childhood. What continue to haunt me are memories of the Egyptian wing at the Metropolitan Museum in New York – in particular the models of markets and other depictions of daily life in ancient Egypt that were preserved in tombs.

If you could live with only one piece of art, what would it be?

A stone from Cape Breton.

What is your favourite title of an artwork?

In general, I like the titles of Agnes Martin’s paintings because they are poetic and suggestive and they add another level of understanding to her abstract works. For example: With My Back to the World (1997).
Such titles draw you in.

What do you wish you knew?

I wish I could speak another language: I’ve always wanted to experience the world of a different language. Or, if I had studied physics, I might have a small insight into the nature of things.

What should change?

In my lifetime, there have been significant changes in civil rights and in women’s rights. But it is rather shocking to see how much has not changed and how much work must still be done.

What should stay the same?

I can’t imagine anything staying the same. Matter is not stable.

What could you imagine doing if you didn’t do what you do?

I would like to work with animals and to learn how they communicate: for instance, fish, birds and elephants. I have a dog, so that gives me some idea.

What music are you listening to?

I am in the process of editing my new work, so I am listening to the music of people I work with. The jazz musician Jason Moran, whom I’ve worked with for about ten years, and the Norwegian Sami singer Ánde Somby.

What are you reading?

The essay ‘Why Look at Animals’ by John Berger, published in About Looking (1980).
 Almost all the translated writings of Elena Ferrante.

Joan Jonas’s work encompasses video, performance, installation, sound, text and drawing. Based in New York, USA, she has taught at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA, since 1998 and is currently Professor Emerita in Art, Culture and Technology. Her recent solo shows include a retrospective at Hangar Bicocca, Milan, Italy (2014); Centre for Contemporary Art, Kitakyushu Project Gallery, Japan (2014); Kulturhuset Stadsteatern Stockholm, Norway (2013); Proyecto Paralelo, Mexico (2013) and the Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, USA (2013).
This year, she is representing the USA at the 56th Venice Biennale, Italy.

Issue 171

First published in Issue 171

May 2015

Most Read

At a time of rising xenophobia and precarity, former Queens Museum director Laura Raicovich on why arts institutions...
What Nan Goldin’s protesting of the Sacklers’s complicity in the US opioid crisis tells us about self-deification...
With the 2018 Sydney Biennale opening this week, a guide to the best gallery and museum shows to see around the city
The artist says his Chicago sculpture Cloud Gate was appropriated for an NRA advertisement without permission; condemns...
In further news: Marina Abramović working on an opera; director of Ghent museum suspended after show including...
An open letter in support of the soon to be ousted curator María Inés Rodríguez has been signed by more than 50...
From Ragnar Kjartansson’s Italo-pop-infused The Sky in a Room to Matt Stokes’s happy hardcore recitals: the organ’...
Tate’s artist in residence Liv Wynter calls director Maria Balshaw’s comments on harassment a ‘slap in the face’
Changing shapes and sizes on stage is a good move, but a complicated one
Remembering the avant-garde filmmaker whose work, with her partner Yervant Gianikian, demonstrated an active and...
In other news: Tania Bruguera and Laurie Anderson bring political banners to Times Square; Polish artists protest...
With the Armory Show opening in the city, a guide to the gallery and museum shows not to miss
US true crime series Unsolved takes two formative pop cultural events to explore their concealed human stories and...
Ahead of the Oscars the director of the art world satire talks about making the real-life Square, the Swedish monarchy...
In further news: criticism over Great Exhibition of the North’s BAE Systems partner; judge rules Charlottesville...
The new television series invokes violence and fear as defining forces of civilization, just like the Kenneth Clark...
What the artist’s newly-unveiled chapel in Austin, Texas, tells us about the origins of his practice
With Macron poised to make changes to France's handling of ethnographic art, the quai Branly would do well to follow...
The Barbadian filmmaker, recipient of this year’s Margaret Tait Award, is intent on disrupting institutional complacency
Anya Berger, photographed in Italy.
‘The bearing of an aristocrat and the politics of a revolutionary’, Tom Overton pays tribute
The mythic time of comic-book narrative represents a fatal challenge to the film’s transcendent politics
From the controversial winner of the Golden Bear to Morgan Fisher's homage to Bruce Conner – to possibly the bleakest...
Two controversial events suggest a precarious relationship between China’s culture industry and the state’s soft power...
In further news: French artists and curators rally behind Jeff Koons; Tania Bruguera named for next Turbine Hall...
The artist investigates tensions between the sturdy and the fragile, and the public and the private at VI,VII, Oslo
Why have women been written out of internet history?
Jace Clayton interviews Arthur Jafa about the politics of filmmaking, ‘black sites’ and learning how to surprise...
With global issues cutting across disciplines, a number of projects are showing where the mixing of art and science can...
Ruf resigned last year after a potential conflict of interest; a petition claims that she is being punished for her...
Ahead of ARCOMadrid this week, a guide to the best institutional shows in the city
At La Panacée, Montpellier, Nicolas Bourriaud’s manifesto for a new movement and attempt to demarcate an artistic peer...
A report commissioned by the museum claims Raicovich ‘misled’ the board; she disputes the investigation’s claims
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018

frieze magazine

March 2018