Posted by: madeleinerolson | October 20, 2018

Joan Jonas’ Mirror Mirror Lecture As Inspiration for My Own Intermedia Work

          This past Thursday, I attended Joan Jonas’ lecture, Mirror Mirror, as part of Mount Holyoke’s 2018-2019 Leading Women in the Arts series. Each year, the Mount Holyoke Weissman Center for Leadership brings an acclaimed artist to our community to give lectures, workshop, and discussion events related to their professional work. As a student who is pursuing a self-designed major in Intermedia Performance Art, Joan Jonas especially intrigued me because of her pioneering multimedial work.

          Before the lecture, the Weissman Center for Leadership host gave us a overview of Jonas’ recognized background. To give some context, Joan Jonas is Mount Holyoke alumna (‘58) whose work has been exhibited and performed in museums at the international standard. Exhibitions have included the 2008 Sydney Biennial, Yokohama Triennial (2008), United States Pavillion for the 56th Edition of the Venice Biennial (2015), Akureyri National Gallery of Iceland, the London’s Tate Modern (2018) and more. Her work will travel to Munich’s Haus der Kunst this November and to the Porto’s Serralves Museum in May 2019. You can further about all her exhibitions here:

          Jonas opened her lecture by situating us with her early enthusiasm of theatrical play and experimentation of  materials as a child. She then described her numerous exhibitions throughout career, using images to supplement her discussion. For every point, she had a correlating image and at times re-displayed a previous image so that there was always a visual representation to her words. The extent of her oral delivery continuously aligning with some image was unique to me, and made me consider her choice to have a conscious multimedia presentation. At times she would even pause her lecture to allow us to listen and watch the video displayed before us. I observed her value in giving an audience the privilege to watch, to be a viewer of an experience, in addition to a listener.

          Her explanation of her Mirror Piece (1969) particularly  inspired me to consider audience/medium encounter, within my own creative work. In this piece, Jonas had choreographed full length mirrors to face the audience so that they saw their own reflection. She mentioned how use of multiple mirrors created a fragmented reflection. I admire her atypical use of materials, and in this instance, she choreographs static objects into mobility. She considers the potential of an object’s medium and how it can be used to distort common applications of them, exemplifying her motivation to experiment, play, and forge her own methodology of investigation.

          In a recent study abroad application portfolio, I submitted a proposal for a hypothetical performance art installation using mirrors and photographs to interrogate the ideas of subjective viewpoint, representations of reality, and aesthetic preference. Confronting reflection through different angles (literally through different mirror positions and symbolically through the notion of our personal viewpoints/aesthetic preferences) is an aspect I have always desired to explore, and intend on doing so if I pursue this proposed installation next semester. As Jonas shared how she gave the mirrors a mobile quality through choreography, thus changing our encounter with them, I see possibility in my own creative pursuit to explore how experimenting with a mirror’s physical position can alter and distort our confrontations of viewpoint and subjective reflection.

          I find the act of holding up a mirror to an audience an appealing artistice choice. Seeing one’s own reflection in a mirror can be uncomfortable for some, especially when the audience, committed to sitting in their seats, has no choice about having this confrontation. The mirror can bring up themes of accuracy/self-subjectivity, vanity/repulsion, and even the sense of compacting/expanding space. In my hypothetical installation proposal, I had laid out a choreographed plan for the audience to encounter their reflections at various angles and mirror types (concave/convex/plain mirrors; mirrors laying flat on a surface/mirrors mounted on a wall/mirrors laying at the base of a water tub; full length mirrors/profile sized mirrors). Through my experience in site specific design, I always consider the audience and intentionally incorporate their interaction into my pieces.

          In contrast, Jonas mentioned how she is “not so much interested including the audience in [her] work,” but knows her work will have a dialogue and a presence of an audience in the room. She knows her exhibits includes “images that need to be seen.” I think her claim that installations “include audiences – the audience moves through the work at their own time and space,” is useful for understanding our differences in intention. It seems her exhibitions depend less the specities of what the audience is doing and rather invites them into the space as a active viewers and reactors. It seems my work, more based in site specific performance and design, choreographs specific interactions for the audience to take part, utilizing them as a necessary component to the piece. Neither is better than the other in my view, and I do not intend to make these official and restricted distinctions. In fact, I am so fascinated to continue considering both the fine and slippery lines between a curated installation or a curated site specific performance.

          As Jonas has shown, the two can become conflated, which I realize is an essential definition of performance art. By nature, performance art must be a hybridized form of visual, installation, and performance. It inherently demands the collaboration of visual, dramatic, and digital arts. Her lecture and artistic work has inspired me to expand my thinking of the technical possibilities for using the mirrors and mediums in general within my own creative work. I began asking various questions: How does manipulation of a medium influence our investigation  and understanding of a concept (e.g. masking, reflection, delayed sound)? What are the ways installation can choreograph, or hyper-utilize an audience versus allowing them their own navigation of a space? What discoveries and manifestations are possible because of a multi-medial approach to creative investigation? Her method of using mediums, such as a stick to hold a drawing instrument rather than a hand, is another example of her commitment to find new methodologies of artmaking. Among the various performance artists I have come to respect in the last few years, Jonas is unique for intention to make art that “includes the world,” rather than only relying on technology.  Her work exemplifies the art of probing art’s capabilities while breaking though artistic conventions in the process, rightly recognizing her as the pioneer of the field.

          Below I have included various images of Joan Jonas’ exhibitions as a demonstrating abstract use of mediums, including the mentioned Mirror Piece (1968). I have also included photos of my own recent installation proposal to show how her work can inspire my own creative thinking. 

Delay Delay (1972) on Lower West Side, New York, NY. Spectators stood on the roof of a building overlooking a large area of empty lots in downtown New York. That performance incorporated ideas of seeing from a distance and seeing from overhead. For more information:


The Shape, The Scent, The Feel of Things (2005), the newest iteration of Joan Jonas’s The Shape, The Scent, The Feel of Things, performed at Dia:Beacon is a sophisticated, layered, and at times exhaustingly complex reflection on diverse cultural source material. The text of this performance is a collage of fragments made up from art historian Aby Warburg’s lecture notes delivered in 1923 to doctors at a Sanatorium in Kreuzlingen, Switzerland, thirty years after his travels in 1896 to the American Southwest, where he visited the Hopi Indians. The lecture was given to demonstrate that he had recovered from a nervous breakdown. It describes the ideas generated by his journey, which had altered his views of cultural history. Jonas interprets and responds to Warburg’s text. For more information:


Mirror Piece (1969) reconfigured at the Guggenheim (2010).  Inspired by the writings of Jorge Luis Borges, featured performers holding large mirrors on stage, slowly rotating them so as to alter conceptions of space and offer shifting reflections of the audience. For more information: . Mirror Piece will be reconfigured again January 2019 at Mount Holyoke College

Here are a few models in my portfolio submission for my recent application to show how Jonas’ work has possibility to inform my creative thinking. Note: I am not showing the whole proposal, only relevant parts to this discussion, so it is okay if these presentations seem somewhat decontextualized:

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          In one the rooms of my proposed installation, there is a room with video projections. Alongside the back wall, I have envisioned having mirrors along the back wall, in array of shapes, dimensions, and positions as shown above. In front of these mirrors is a twine line acting as clothesline holding photos up. The audience encounters subjective representation multiple ways: Firstly by encountering a photographic image. Secondly by encountering the mirrors along the back wall behind this clothesline. Thirdly by seeing the reflection in these mirrors of the projections on the opposite walls of them where. These projects are intended to be moving images of pre-shot street scene footage. The act of shooting video is a manipulated and subjective art in itself. Jonas’ multi-positionality of  mirrors inspires me to consider how different mounted angles in my piece might expose/conceal the reflections we see from the medium in the first place.
Screen Shot 2018-10-20 at 2.42.24 PM.png

          Above is an upclose example of how I intend to investigate reflection in three different instances and layers. Reflection is embodied through the literal layer of using photographic and mirror mediums. It is also embodied on the conceptual layer of understanding film is a manipulated reflection of reality.  

Screen Shot 2018-10-20 at 2.42.17 PM

          At one area of my proposed installation, there is a 2 x 3 ft tub of water with polaroids and a mirror lying flat inside its base, as shown. In short, viewers are instructed to take their own photos using a polaroid camera provided in the installation space and hang it up on the close line (show in previous 2 images). They are then instructed to replace their photo with a photo already hanging on this clothesline. This photo that they take off the clothesline is instructed to be placed  this tub of water. Throughout this proposed installation, there is a continual change of the images displayed. The exhibition of photos hanging becomes an organic, changing piece of art as the audience actively manipulates display of photos hanging. Jonas inspires me to probe how the same concept can be examined through multiple mediums. If I were to pursue this installation, I would ponder how the audience might encounter reflection through different mediums in a single space (e.g. through the mechanical reproduction of the photo, through the medium of water, and through the mirror lying in the  water tub perhaps)

-Madeleine Olson


  1. OK!!

    Sent from my iPhone


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