Joan Jonas: They Come to Us without a Word

Presented By

Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture


Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture (FMCAC) announces the U.S. Premiere of They Come to Us without a Word, a major multi-media installation by American artist Joan Jonas. Originally commissioned for the U.S. Pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale, and awarded a prestigious “Special Mention” by the International Jury of the Biennale, the installation incorporates Jonas’ iconic blend of performance, video art, drawing and sculpture to create an immersive, multipart journey that addresses the fragility of the natural world. They Come to Us without a Word will be on view at Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture from January 17, 2019, through March 10, 2019, free and open to the public.  Loan of the work and support for its presentation is generously provided by the Kramlich Collection.

For five decades, Jonas has been at the vanguard of interdisciplinary art forms.  Her pioneering integration of video, sculpture, and performance creates expansive environments shifting traditional models of image making and story-telling.  Considered among the most influential video and performance artists emerging from the late 1960s, Jonas continues to create new bodies of work that consider subjects like the figure in the landscape, the ritual use of object and gesture,  and the fragility of the natural environment in the age of the Anthropocene. Her work was recently the subject of a major retrospective at the Tate Modern, and she is a recipient of the 2018 Kyoto Prize, which acknowledges global achievement and contributions to humanity.

Inspired by Jonas’s earlier examination of Halldόr Laxness’s fantastical novel Under the Glacier, her summers in Nova Scotia and the wonder of nature, They Come to Us without a Word integrates video, drawings, sound, objects and performance to construct five immersive galleries, each organized around a central image (Bees, Fish, Mirror, Wind and Homeroom).  Fragments of ghost stories sourced by oral traditions from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, form a nonlinear narrative that links each gallery with the next. Through the interplay of disparate mediums, They Come to Us without a Word mirrors human interference with nature’s ecosystems, creating an experience where the impact of each artistic element reverberates throughout the room. Taken together, these elements form a highly complex work depicting a fractured yet interdependent chain of life.

Moving Off the Land
In conjunction with the exhibition, Jonas will present two live performances of Moving Off the Land, a mesmerizing tribute and poetic response to the power of the ocean. Commissioned by TBA21–Academy and recently presented in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall as part of a major survey exhibition dedicated to her work, the multi-layered performance brings together readings, dance, live drawing and projections to portray the ocean’s biodiverse inhabitants and endangered marine cultures. Moving Off the Land will be presented on Saturday, January 19, and Sunday, January 20, 2019. Find more information and purchase performance tickets here.

Exhibition Information
The exhibition will be on view January 17, 2019, through March 10, 2019. Wednesday-Saturday, noon-8 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Monday-Tuesday.

Exhibition Tickets
Admission is free. Due to anticipated demand, visitors are encouraged to reserve complimentary tickets in advance. A limited number of same-day tickets will be available to visitors throughout the exhibition.

Organization and Credits
Joan Jonas: They Come to Us without a Word is presented by Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture. Loan support generously provided by the Kramlich Collection. Originally commissioned by MIT List Visual Arts Center for the representation of the United States by Joan Jonas at La Biennale di Venezia 56th International Art Exhibition in 2015, this exhibition is the first presentation of the artwork in the USA. Images © 2018 Joan Jonas/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Moving Off the Land. Oceans – Sketches and Notes was commissioned by TBA21-Academy, London. The performance, which recently was presented in conjunction with the artist’s retrospective at Tate Modern, builds upon work that was first presented as part of TBA21-Academy’s Convening in Kochi, India (2016).

About Joan Jonas
Emerging from the vibrant New York art world of the late 1960s, Joan Jonas (b. 1936, New York, NY, USA) creates innovative forms across video, performance, drawing, sound, and installation.  An early adopter of video technology and performance in visual art, her work continues to encourage experiments in gallery, projected image, and theater-based practices. Since pieces like Wind (1968), Mirror Check (1970), and Organic Honey’s Vertical Roll (1972), Jonas has explored the figure in the landscape, the ritual use of gesture and objects, time as an experience, and the poetics of masks. In recent work like Reanimation (2010/2012/2013) and the performance Moving Off the Land (2018), she combines these threads to highlight the rich ecosystems increasingly at risk in the Anthropocene.

Jonas was awarded the 2018 Kyoto Prize for Art from the Inamori Foundation in Japan, and a retrospective of her career was organized by Tate Modern in Spring 2018.  Jonas has taught at MIT since 1998, and currently serves as Professor Emerita in the MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology.  She received a B.A. in Art History from Mount Holyoke College in 1958, studied sculpture at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and received an M.F.A. in Sculpture from Columbia University in 1965.  A native New Yorker, Jonas continues to live and work in New York City.

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