The NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore (NTU CCA Singapore) is delighted to collaborate with the MIT List Visual Arts Center and honoured to present They Come to Us without a Word, the discipline-defining video and performance pioneer Joan Jonas' first major exhibition in Singapore and Southeast Asia.
6th Jan, 2016
PRESS RELEASE: The NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore (NTU CCA Singapore) is delighted to collaborate with the MIT List Visual Arts Center and honoured to present They Come to Us without a Word, the discipline-defining video and performance pioneer Joan Jonas' first major exhibition in Singapore and Southeast Asia. Presented and commissioned for the U.S. Pavilion by the MIT List Visual Arts Center at the 56th Venice Biennale, They Come to Us without a Word is co-curated by Paul C. Ha and Ute Meta Bauer. Awarded a prestigious ‘Special Mention’ by the International Jury of the Biennale, They Come to Us without a Word evokes the fragility of nature in a rapidly changing environment. In her own poetic language, Jonas addresses the irreversible impact of human interference on the environmental equilibrium of our planet.
They Come to Us without a Word evolved out of an earlier work, Reanimation, inspired by the writings of Icelandic author Halldór Laxness and his poetic portrayal of the natural world. Each room of Jonas’ installation represents a particular creature (bees, fish), object (mirror), force (wind), or place (the homeroom). Fragments of ghost stories sourced from an oral tradition in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, form a nonlinear narrative linking one room of Jonas’ installation to the next. In a mirrored room full of reflections, crystal beads strung on a chandelier-like structure lie suspended from the middle of the ceiling, creating shadows that move all over the walls. These spoken fragments function partly as a reference to what remains, “Ghosts are very much alive there, as in all parts of the world,” Jonas explains. “We are haunted, the rooms are haunted.”
Each room features two video projections – one presenting the main motif of the room and the other the ghost narrative. Jonas developed these videos during a series of workshops with friends’ children of ages five to sixteen performing against video backdrops of her earlier works, and landscapes shot by the artist in Nova Scotia, Canada and Brooklyn, New York. Alongside Jonas’ highly distinctive drawings, she uses kites she made in Japan, as well as a selection of objects that were used as props in her videos creating the sense of a stage set.
“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.”
A curated public programme for They Come to Us without a Word consisting of film screenings, workshops and Exhibition (de)Tours will offer points of entry into and expand on the key themes of Jonas’ work, such as honey bees, ghost stories, and animals. Various contributors to the programme include: artist and filmmaker Park Chan-kyong, paranormal investigator Yasser Matter, and lighting designer Jan Kroeze, who conceived the customised lighting for the installation and has collaborated with cultural figures Merce Cunningham, Karl Lagerfeld, and Kanye West.
Jonas’ interdisciplinary approach towards her practice continues to be crucial to the development of many contemporary art genres, from performance and video, to conceptual art and theatre. “Joan’s voice and vision have been powerful forces in contemporary art for five decades,” says Paul C. Ha, commissioner and co-curator of the 2015 U.S. Pavilion, elaborating that her selection to represent the U.S. Pavilion at the Biennale is an acknowledgement of her outstanding contributions to the art world.
She was one of the first artists to explore the potential of the video camera as a tool for image-making and the TV monitor as a sculptural object. This led her to experiment and develop a distinct visual language exploring how the image is altered through the mediums of mirror, distance, video, and narrative. “As I know from working with Joan as both a curator and educator, one does not only see her work, one experiences it,” says Ute Meta Bauer of Jonas’ ability to work with spaces, transforming them into profound encounters.
They Come to Us without a Word was organised for the U.S. Pavilion of the 56th Venice Biennale by the MIT List Visual Arts Center and co-curated by Paul C. Ha, Director of the MIT List Visual Arts Center and Ute Meta Bauer, Founding Director of the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. The exhibition was generously supported by U.S. Department of State, Cynthia and John Reed, the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Additional major support was provided by the Council for the Arts at MIT, Toby Devan Lewis, VIA Art Fund, Agnes Gund, Lambent Foundation.
The exhibition in Singapore is organised by the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, Nanyang Technological University with support by the Economic Development Board, Singapore. Additional support has also been provided by the U.S. Embassy Singapore.