Joan Jonas

Street Scene with Chalk
1976/2008/2010 [with Viewing box, 2021]
Venue: Museum of Public Transport ‘Corneliu Miklosi’

Works of literature and the animal world are two recurring sources of inspirations in Joan Jonas’ mixed-media installations and performances. Reading Dante is a body of work that ‘translates’ Dante Alighieri’s fourteenth-century Divine Comedy into the artist’s deeply personal and eclectic visual language. One of the single-channel videos that comprise the work, Street Scene with Chalk, 1976/2008/2010, shows an excerpt of Jonas’ performance Reading Dante II (2008/2009; Performa 09, New York, 2009). In this action the artist draws on a blackboard with white chalk and records her gestures on a screen, where the video of a performance from 1976 is simultaneously projected. The projected images show Joan Jonas with fellow artist Pat Steir and a man who accidentally joined the scene, improvising movements on the streets of Downtown Manhattan using a large circle and metal cones. Street Scene with Chalk is presented within Viewing box, 2021, a structure designed by the artist to display this single-channel video work.

Animals and the “natural” world have been recurring touchstones in Jonas’s multifaceted practice, especially in her works on paper. Birds, dogs, bees, fish and snakes are just some of the animals that constellate the artist’s world of drawing. Installations by Jonas that focus on the fragility of nature and its relationship with the human dimension include Reanimation (2010/2012/2013), inspired by the writings of Icelandic author Halldór Laxness; They Come to Us without a Word (2015), the greater installation for the US pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale; and In the Trees (2015), which turns its gaze towards the flora and fauna of the forest, especially birds.

In recent years Jonas has turned her attention towards the creatures that inhabit our oceans, as seen in her exhibition and performance project Moving Off the Land (2016–2020). This body of work encompasses three years of research into the significance of the ocean throughout history as a totemic spiritual and cultural reference. Jonas conjures an aquatic universe of mythological and real figures, where new stories of sheer beauty and ecological urgency emerge.


Joan Jonas is one of the most significant artists in the history of video and performance. Beginning in the 1960s, she placed female subjectivity at the centre of her work, employing a complex linguistic repertoire including gestures, storytelling and images in movement. A tireless experimenter, Jonas explores the possibilities inherent to the interdisciplinary nature of art, a characteristic that has made her a point of reference for a young generation of artists. The continuous renewal and transpositions of the media Jonas experiments with are sourced from fairy tales to essays, from myths to local folklore and relate newly to contemporary life, both poetically and politically.

Jonas was the subject of a major retrospective at Tate Modern, London, in 2018 (which travelled to Haus der Kunst, Munich, in 2022), alongside a program of performances and screenings. Institutions that have organised solo exhibitions by Joan Jonas include: Art Gallery of the University of the City of Kyoto (2019); HangarBicocca, Milan (2014); Queens Museum of Art, New York (2003); Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart (2000); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1994). Since 2021 works by Jonas are on long-term view at Dia Beacon, Beacon, NY.