Press Release

Joan Jonas’ U.S. Pavilion Commission From 2015 Venice Biennale Makes U.S. Premiere at Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture This January

Event Date: 
17 January 2018
San Francisco, CA
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Jonas to give live performances of multi-layered work Moving Off the Land in conjunction with installation’s opening weekend

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.

“As an arts center located in a waterfront national park, Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture is a natural setting for Jonas’s work,” says Rich Hillis, Executive Director of FMCAC. “Her work reminds us not only of the magic of nature but what we stand to lose.”

Added Frank Smigiel, Director of Arts Programming & Partnerships at FMCAC, “Joan has influenced countless artists throughout her career as she opens up what art works can be and do. She’s a trailblazer whose work we both teach and watch out for – and we at Fort Mason are honored to be showcasing this iconic installation in the U.S. for the first time.”

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.

“Although the idea of my work involves the question of how the world is so rapidly and radically changing, I do not address the subject directly or didactically,” says Jonas. “Rather, the ideas are implied poetically through sound, lighting, and the juxtaposition of images of children, animals and landscape.”

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.

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Joan Jonas, They Come to Us without a Word, 2015, production still. © 2018 Joan Jonas / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

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