Posted by: penne22m | December 2, 2018

Joan Jonas: “60 Years Later” lecture

Mount Holyoke’s 2018-2019 Leading Woman in the Arts and very own alumna gave a public lecture titled “60 Years Later” in Mount Holyoke’s Gamble Auditorium. Jonas is a visual artist, who works with video and performance art in experimental and pioneering ways. She is also the first Mount Holyoke alumna to be included in the Leading Woman in the Arts program! Jonas graduated in 1958 from Mount Holyoke with a degree in Art History. The Leading Women in the Arts series has been active for 12 years, and is organized by the InterArts Council and the Weissman Center for Leadership. The program supports artists (in multiple mediums) who’s careers serve to inspire new generations of students. She was welcomed by President Sonya Stephens and warmly introduced by Amy Martin and Tricia Paik.

I found many aspects of Jonas’ lecture to be fascinating, and was excited to learn more about the work of the important female artist. What I found to be most compelling about Jonas’ work, was the emphasis she placed on life and art. Beginning with the lecture title, “60 years later” one can sense that Jonas views her work in the arts as a lifelong journey. Within her lecture, she took the audience with her through progressing periods in her life and how those periods influenced the work she went on to produce. She placed emphasis on the influence she took from experiences such as her childhood – where she learned the importance of play, spent much of her time in nature and found a connection to animals, especially to her beloved dogs. She talked about her early influences on her exposures in New York, Broadway and performance. As well as her own training in dance.

I found it most fascinating that Jonas drew and continues to draw much of her inspiration for her art from her life experiences. A creative medium that I am interested in is writing, specifically writing creative non-fiction and personal narratives. In my own work I write about life, and my childhood often appears, influencing my discoveries in different ways. In my work too I have been thinking a lot about craft recently, a question that was brought up for me when viewing Jonas’ work. The lecture that Jonas gave helped me in understanding the idea of craft in her work, which is so experimental in nature. As I learned about the life experiences that influenced Jonas’ creative decisions, I was able to connect with her work in a new way. It was in this frame that I was able to think about her work Mirror Improvisations that is currently featured in the Mount Holyoke Art Museum. My impressions and appreciation of this piece shifted after attending Jonas’ “60 Years Later” lecture. Previously, I had been unsure of how to interpret the work. But with this new idea of Jonas’ childhood influences I began to appreciate the work as an expression guided by her early life.

I interpreted this piece to be playing with the idea of a lingering childhood. The dress in the piece is striking because the two older women are dressed as children. The attire is definitely whimsical, reminiscent of a childlike interest in a fairy or a princess. The tulle skirts and paper crowns are surprising in this context of adulthood, and took me as viewer into an alternate moment in time and space. The setting also seemed to correspond with Jonas’ own childhood playing in the woods and spending summertime in nature. One could imagine this time spent in nature was made all the more important for young Jonas as it contrasted starkly with her time spent in New York. Through experimental filming, Jonas and the other members of the scene record what looks like a sequence of discovery and play. There are two people as well as a dog in the scenes. The presence of the dog further reinforced my idea that this piece could be a form of expression akin to a piece of personal narrative writing. During her lecture, Jonas stressed the significance of the continued presence of her pets in her life, especially her different dogs. Initially, I didn’t know what to make of the idea of reflection– and the filming and viewing though mirrors in this work. Now I can muse that this may be Jonas commenting on the role her childhood played in creating her sense of self, or that a part of her adult identity holds on to this inner experimental child. There is a definite sense of storytelling in Jonas’ work, which feels deeply personal. There are many ways to interpret the art of Jonas, but I was grateful for her lecture “60 Years Later” for providing me with a new way to consider her work.



Jonas, Joan. Mirror Improvisation. 2005.




  1. I also particularly loved Mirror Improvisations. It was a piece that I felt I could completely melt into as I watched! While I felt that the other pieces were asking me to think and analyze, or rather that there was a message about society and culture to be gleaned from doing that kind of work, Mirror Improvisations felt more about the experience of watching. It felt familiar to me, having played in a very similar way as a child. I loved the child-hood, nonsensical logic that the piece evokes, and the mirrors distorting the space to show you the fantasy. I remember a quote of her’s that I encountered that was about how she uses mirrors as special effects, and this felt very much like using a mirror as a special effect to create the look and feel of a fantasy world. And thank you for those details from the talk! That certainly explains some of her intention, or as much as she wants us to know.

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