Joan Jonas

Top image: From Joan Jonas, Reading Dante III, 2010, at Yvon Lambert New York. Courtesy of the artist and Yvon Lambert Paris, New York.

Curated by Steinar Sekkingstad

Joan Jonas is a pioneer of performance and video art. Her experimental practice in the 1960s and 1970s has had a considerable influence on the development of these art forms. Over four decades, Jonas has been able to build further on an impressive oeuvre that fuses elements from modern dance, music, theatre and visual art.

At Bergen Kunsthall Joan Jonas is presenting a new version of an ongoing series of installations under the title Reading Dante. The series began in 2007, and each new version incorporates elements from the preceding ones. In Reading Dante Jonas reinterprets the journey of the soul through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven – following Dante Alighieri’s epic The Divine Comedy. By way of her distinctive ‘shamanistic’ visual language Jonas offers an idiosyncratic approach to one of the most important works of world literature. The project is not an attempt to illustrate the text; it is rather a personal translation of Dante into a visual language where central elements and symbols from Jonas’ visual vocabulary (mirrors, masks, dogs, cones etc.) enter into and shape their own narrative in the light of the artist’s overall oeuvre. In an earlier grand-scale series of this type, The Shape, the Scent, the Feel of Things (2004-2007), Jonas let the art historian Aby Warburg function as a pivotal figure, as Dante does in Reading Dante. Jonas reads both these figures in the light of our own time. The fourteenth-century Middle Ages (Dante) and the early twentieth century (Warburg) were both periods that underwent serious upheavals. According to Jonas the same can be said of our own time.

The exhibition is part of an annual collaboration between Bergen Kunsthall and the Borealis Festival, where central contemporary artists who work in the field between music and visual art are presented.

Joan Jonas (b. 1936) lives and works in New York. She is a very important figure in American post-war art, and has had a long succession of exhibitions all over the world, including retrospective solo exhibitions at the Queens Museum of Art, New York (2003), Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart (2000) and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1994). She has been represented at central exhibitions such as Documenta V, VI, VII and XI. She teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In 2009 she received the Guggenheim’s first Lifetime Achievement Award.

The exhibition has been produced by Bergen Kunsthall in collaboration with Borealis. Borealis Festival: 22nd – 26th March 2011.

Reading Dante III