Driving Toward Complexity and Control
Far from being “random” events, dreams and their symbolic features are, Sigmund Freud maintained, overdetermined from multiple sources and masked in daily experience. They function to bind anxiety, trauma and conflict. Like a dream, a work of art is fruitful when it funnels many converging forces, allowing it to bear not one interpretation but many. The frenzy of stimuli in Joan Jonas’ later multimedia spectacles belies the simplicity of her constrained early works. But as we discern the integrity of even her over-saturated productions, we come to admire her intelligence, ambition and passion.
This exhibition at MIT’s Bakalar Gallery presents black-and-white performance videos by Jonas from the mid-1970s, color videos from the ’80s and one video created for Documenta XI shortly after the attacks of September 11. The intermediate works, though not entirely satisfying, give good evidence of Jonas’ drive toward complexity and control. Only “Lines in the Sand,” the latest in the group, gives a preview of the multimedia extravaganzas to follow, which combine installation, performance, multi-channel video and music. (A culminating work, “They Come to us without a Word,” is under construction at the 2015 Venice Biennale as this article goes to press.)
The gritty videos of the ’70s might be mistaken as merely repetitive, but in fact they are surprisingly tense and confrontational. At the gallery’s front entrance, a TV turned sideways arrests you with a woman’s ongoing reiteration of the words “Good Night, Good Morning” (1976). Although the verbal content is disconcertingly limited to these two phrases, their rhythmical predictability is some comfort. Yet, while we wish to feel we know the speaker as we follow her into every corner and shadow of her apartment, she remains opaque to us. Nevertheless, with so much withheld, our knowledge of each detail about her becomes precious.