2018Arts and PhilosophyArts (Painting, Sculpture, Craft, Architecture, Photography, Design, etc.)
Joan Jonas photo

Joan Jonas

  • U.S.A. / July 13, 1936
  • Artist
  • Professor Emerita, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

An Artist Who Pioneered New Artistic Expression by Integrating Performance Art and New Media, Remaining at the Forefront of Contemporary Art for 50 Years

Ms. Jonas created a new artistic form by integrating performance art and video art, and has evolved her original medium at the forefront of contemporary art continuously. Creating labyrinth-like works that lead audiences to diverse interpretations, she hands down the legacy of 1960s avant-garde art by developing it into a postmodern framework, profoundly impacting artists of later generations.


Brief Biography

Born in New York City, U.S.A.
B.F.A. in Art History, Mount Holyoke College
Studied sculpture at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Interacted with various artists such as Robert Raushenberg,
Claes Oldenburg, Trisha Brown, John Cage, and so on.
M.F.A. in Sculpture, Columbia University
First public performance at St. Peter’s Church, New York
Began using video in performance
Professor, State Academy of Fine Arts Stuttgart
Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Professor Emerita, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Represented the United States at the 56th Venice Biennale

Selected Awards and Honors

Maya Deren Award, American Film Institute
Lifetime Achievement Award, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
American Academy of Arts and Letters, American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Selected Works


Organic Honey’s Visual Telepathy (video performance)


Vertical Roll (video)


Mirage II (video)


Three Tales (installation)


Double Lunar Dogs (video performance)


Volcano Saga (video performance)


Lines in the Sand (performance + installation)


The Shape, the Scent, the Feel of Things (performance + installation)


Reanimation (performance + installation)


They Come to Us without a Word (performance + installation)


Stream or River, Flight or Pattern (installation)


An Artist Who Pioneered New Artistic Expression by Integrating Performance Art and New Media, Remaining at the Forefront of Contemporary Art for 50 Years

In the early 1970s, Ms. Joan Jonas established a new artistic form by integrating performance art and video, and has since devoted her energies to evolving and adding sophistication to this form. Her remarkable achievements have earned an esteemed reputation and respect as a pioneer in the field of contemporary performance art and video art, and as an active artist who has been pursuing exciting relationships between performance art and new digital media.

After studying art history and sculpture, in the late 1960s Ms. Jonas built relationships with many artists in her native New York. After participating in workshops by Trisha Brown and Lucinda Childs, who later became mythic figures in postmodern dance, Ms. Jonas was inspired to create her own original works based on body. From the 1970s onward, her works have featured a nonlinear structure without stories, with clear focus put on body and process, as well as diverse elements. Her remarkable long-term achievements also include her contributions in handing down the greatest legacy of 1960s avant-garde art represented by John Cage to future generations by developing it into a framework of postmodern art based on additive, diverse values.

Her Vertical Roll(1972), highly regarded as an archetype in the history of video art, integrated an actual performance with its real-time video screened on a TV monitor onstage. This work featured a revolutionary structure of coexistence of a live performance and its represented image, with a discrepancy in time and space between the audience’s viewpoints and camera angles, as well as the effect of electrical delay within the system. Since its release, the work has been studied and referred to by many artists. The masterpiece Reanimation(2010/2012/2013) in recent years, made with multiple layers of an endless series of diverse elements, is a labyrinth-like work filled with the nature and mythology of Iceland, along with drawings, sounds, and segments of her own earlier art. Ms. Jonas’ works contain a very contemporary narrative structure that encourages audiences to decode the works in their own original ways and achieve a wide variety of interpretations, including misinterpretations, rather than forcing them into a single prepared interpretation.

Since 1998 Ms. Jonas has also taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, winning respect as an educator of character, and has had an immeasurable impact on artists over subsequent generations.

For these reasons, the Inamori Foundation is pleased to present the 2018 Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy to Ms. Joan Jonas.


Abstract of the Lecture

In the Shadow a Shadow

I will trace my ideas of altering the image through the mediums of performance, video, and installation while considering the recurring themes in the work which include references to art history, and rituals of cultures other than my own. Also very important in relation to my ideas of structure and content has been my ongoing interest in the language of film, as well as poetic structure in the modernist tradition. These life experiences of visual and sonic perception are imprinted on my memory, and my work. Drawing has always been a part of my practice. With each project I experiment with ways of drawing in relation to the space of the work, the technology, the subject matter, and material or technique. I will also discuss my approach to and development of movement and the use of props in relation to sound or music as well as to camera and space. Projected fragments from performances and videos will be included in order to clarify these ideas.

I began with the mirror as prop and made performances with mirrors. One could say this was a mirror stage that overlapped my involvement with the medium of video after I purchased a Porta Pak in Japan in 1970. The video monitor became an ongoing mirror reflecting the process of inventing an alter ego and character opposite from my own like Organic Honey. I began to move between the forms of live video performance and autonomous video works. The one fed into the other. At the same time performance outdoors were made in relation to how outdoor space and distance alters the image and or one’s perception of sound and image. Following is a list of important moments that follow the trajectory of a life’s process:

  • Began to work specifically with narrative, beginning with fairy tales, 1976
  • The show Stage Sets: first installation based on idea of stage set in performance as sculpture, 1976
  • Became interested in translating my performances into installations, 1994

Later in 90s I developed sculptural video objects called My New Theater(s). Simultaneously I developed large scale epic works that exist as performance and as installation. Since the later 90s I have developed a form of video backdrop for performances that are edited works in themselves against which I perform. Here I will discuss my concepts of layering, of complicating narrative and the visual by juxtaposing one image against another. The early work mentioned above can be a kind of template for the more complicated later work.

I will discuss the ideas of large scale shows in which the audience can walk into one work while seeing another in an adjoining space.



Radicalism of Performance and Media Art—Joan Jonas and the Succession—

Wednesday, November 14, 2018, 19:00- (The doors open at 18:30)
North Hall, ROHM Theatre Kyoto
Yusuke Hashimoto (Program Director, ROHM Theatre Kyoto), Mizuho Fujita (Curator, Kyoto City University of Arts Art Gallery @KCUA)
Organized by
Inamori Foundation
Planned and produced by
ROHM Theatre Kyoto
Supported by
Kyoto Prefectural Government, Kyoto City Government, NHK


Laureate's Keynote Lecture Joan Jonas
Screening of Laureate's Video Works
Performance by Young Local Artists Yuriko Sasaoka (Artist)
Teppei Kaneuji (Sculptor)
contact Gonzo (Performance Group)
Dialogue Between Laureate and Young Local Artists Joan Jonas
Yuriko Sasaoka
Teppei Kaneuji
contact Gonzo
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