installation view of joan jonas’s ‘they come to us without a word (wind)’, 2014-2015
the US pavilion at the 56th international art exhibition – la biennale di venezia
commissioned by the MIT list visual arts center
photo by moira ricci

 

 

approaching the US pavilion at the 2015 venice art biennale, one is met by an outdoor sculpture in the courtyard consisting of tree trunks taken from nearby certosa island, held together tightly together by copper wire. its somber presence echoes the themes of the greater work inside — they come to us without a word‘ by pioneering video and performance artist joan jonas, which seeks to evoke the fragility of nature within a rapidly changing situation through a video installation which includes drawings and sculptural elements.

venice biennale 2015 US pavilion joan jonas designboom
installation view of joan jonas’s ‘they come to us without a word (fish)’, 2014-2015
the US pavilion at the 56th international art exhibition – la biennale di venezia
commissioned by the MIT list visual arts center
photo by moira ricci

 

 

co-curated by paul c. ha, director of the MIT list visual arts center and ute meta bauer, director of the NTU centre for contemporary art singapore, nanyang technological university; and presented by the MIT list visual arts center in cooperation with the US department of state, ‘they come to us without a word’ emerges from jonas’s 2010 work ‘reanimation’, a performance that was partially influenced by the writings of icelandic author halldór laxness and his poetic depiction of the natural world. each of the US pavilion’s galleries deals with a specific subject related to nature, such as bees or fish, and are linked via fragments of ghost stories sourced from an oral tradition in cape breton, nova scotia, forming a nonlinear narrative linking one gallery to the next. ‘ghosts are very much alive there, as in all parts of the world,’ joan jonas states. ‘we are haunted, the rooms are haunted.’
venice biennale 2015 US pavilion joan jonas designboom
installation view of joan jonas’s ‘they come to us without a word (mirrors)’, 2014-2015
the US pavilion at the 56th international art exhibition – la biennale di venezia
commissioned by the MIT list visual arts center
photo by moira ricci

 

 

 

in each room, two video projections stand in dialogue with one another — one that represents the main motif of the space, and the other as the ghost narrative, creating a continuous visual thread running throughout. free-standing rippled mirrors conceived by jonas and handcrafted in murano specifically for this exhibition, are placed within each room; alongside the artist’s distinctive drawings and kites, and a curated selection of objects that were used as props in her videos. this organization of different elements creates the sense of a stage set. the pavilion’s rotunda is also lined by similar mirrors, with old venetian crystal beads hang from a chandelier-like structure suspended from the middle of the ceiling. the overall atmosphere reflects the viewer and the exterior of the US pavilion’s context within the giardini pubblici, intersected by moving images.

venice biennale 2015 US pavilion joan jonas designboom
installation view of joan jonas’s ‘they come to us without a word (mirrors)’, 2014-2015
the US pavilion at the 56th international art exhibition – la biennale di venezia
commissioned by the MIT list visual arts center
photo by moira ricci

 

 

the video development of ‘they come to us without a word’ took place in new york in winter 2015. they were produced during a series of workshops with children ranging in age from five to 16 performing, against video backdrops of landscapes shot by jonas, mostly captured in nova scotia, canada, and brooklyn, new york. sources also include early videos jonas. ‘the come to us without a word’ is animated by a soundtrack designed by jonas, using excerpts of music by long-time sound collaborator, american jazz pianist and composer jason moran, with songs by norwegian sami singer ånde somby. the customized lighting is conceived by designer jan kroeze.

venice biennale 2015 US pavilion joan jonas designboom
installation view of joan jonas’s ‘they come to us without a word (mirrors)’, 2014-2015
the US pavilion at the 56th international art exhibition – la biennale di venezia
commissioned by the MIT list visual arts center
photo by moira ricci

 

 

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.’

venice biennale 2015 US pavilion joan jonas designboom
installation view of joan jonas’s ‘they come to us without a word (bees)’, 2014-2015
the US pavilion at the 56th international art exhibition – la biennale di venezia
commissioned by the MIT list visual arts center
photo by moira ricci

 

 

 

joan’s voice and vision have been powerful forces in contemporary art for five decades, and I am thrilled to present they come to us without a word in venice, one of the most iconic forums for the presentation of cutting-edge artwork,’ said paul c. ha, director of the MIT list visual arts center. ‘joan’s selection is not only an acknowledgement of her outstanding contributions to the art world thus far, but also an investment in the innovative promise of her future work.’

venice biennale 2015 US pavilion joan jonas designboom
installation view of joan jonas’s ‘they come to us without a word (bees)’, 2014-2015
the US pavilion at the 56th international art exhibition – la biennale di venezia
commissioned by the MIT list visual arts center
photo by moira ricci

 

 

as I know from working with joan as both a curator and educator, one does not only see her work, one experiences it. her multimedia installations make a lasting impression, and her ability to work with spaces in a sensual way turns a visit to the US pavilion in venice into a profound encounter,’ said ute meta bauer, director of the NTU centre for contemporary art singapore, nanyang technological university.

venice biennale 2015 US pavilion joan jonas designboom
installation view of joan jonas’s ‘they come to us without a word (homeroom)’, 2014-2015
the US pavilion at the 56th international art exhibition – la biennale di venezia
commissioned by the MIT list visual arts center
photo by moira ricci

venice biennale 2015 US pavilion joan jonas designboom
installation view of joan jonas’s ‘they come to us without a word (nine trees)’, 2014-2015
the US pavilion at the 56th international art exhibition – la biennale di venezia
commissioned by the MIT list visual arts center
photo by moira ricci

venice biennale 2015 US pavilion joan jonas designboom
joan jonas
‘they come to us without a word’, 2015
production still, courtesy of the artist

venice biennale 2015 US pavilion joan jonas designboom
joan jonas
‘they come to us without a word’, 2015
production still, courtesy of the artist

venice biennale 2015 US pavilion joan jonas designboom
joan jonas
‘they come to us without a word’, 2015
production still, courtesy of the artist

venice biennale 2015 US pavilion joan jonas designboom
artist joan jonas and her dog ozu
photo by moira ricci

pavilion of the united states
56th international art exhibition – la biennale di venezia
joan jonas’s ‘they come to us without a word’
presented by the MIT list visual arts center
commissioner and co-curator: paul c. ha, director of the mit list visual arts center
co-curator: ute meta bauer, director of the NTU centre for contemporary art singapore, nanyang technological university