Vertical Roll

Vertical Roll is a seminal work. In a startling collusion of form and content, Jonas constructs a theater of female identity by deconstructing representations of the female body and the technology of video. Using an interrupted electronic signal — or "vertical roll" — as a dynamic formal device, she dislocates space, re-framing and fracturing the image. The relentless vertical roll, which repeats throughout the tape, disrupts the image by exposing the medium's materiality. Using her body as performance object and video as a theatrical construct, Jonas unveils a disjunctive self-portrait. As she performs in front of the camera — masked, wearing a feathered headdress, or costumed as a belly-dancer — her feet, torso, arms and legs appear as disembodied fragments. Subjected to the violence of the vertical roll and the scrutiny of the video mirror, these disjointed images of the body — including a photographic representation of a female nude — are even further abstracted and mediated. The incessantly jumping picture frame, with its repeating horizontal black bar, both confronts and distances the viewer, creating a tension between subjectivity and objectivity. The tape's staccato, insistent visual rhythm is heightened by the regular, sharp crack of a spoon hitting a surface, which resounds as if Jonas were smacking the video equipment itself. In the tape's final moments, Jonas confronts the viewer face-to-face in front of the aggressively rolling video screen, adding yet another spatial and metaphorical layer of fragmentation and self-reflection to this theatrical hall of mirrors.
Photography: Roberta Neuman.

About Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas, believing that sculpture and painting were exhausted mediums, became known for her pioneering work in performance and video art. Jonas, who studied sculpture and art history, was deeply influenced by the work of Trisha Brown, with whom she studied dance, as well as John Cage and Claes Oldenburg, particular in their exploration of non-linear narrative structure and form. Jonas’s own work has frequently engaged and questioned portrayals of female identity in theatric and self-reflexive ways, using ritual-like gestures, masks, mirrors, and costumes. Over time, Jonas began to introduce more symbolic elements into her work; frequent motifs include dogs, the sun and moon, skulls, landscapes, and hurricanes. Themes of memory, autobiography, mythology, and dreams became more central themes in her work in the 1980s.

American, b. 1936, New York, New York, based in New York, New York

Exhibition Highlights On Artsy

2016
Closing Celebratory Show, Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Los Angeles
2016
Joan Jonas: From Away, DHC/ART, Montreal
2015
United States Pavilion, 56th Venice Biennale, Venice
2014
Safety Curtain 2014/2015 by Joan Jonas, museum in progress, Vienna
2014
14 Rooms, Fondation Beyeler