Joan Jonas: Ice Drawing

Since the late 1960s, pioneering artist Joan Jonas has been collapsing boundaries between media, combining sound, text, and drawing in video performances and installations. Often in dialogue with literature, the early work of this visionary artist explored mythology and cultural archetypes related to gender, while more recent projects address our complex relationship to the natural world.

Jonas’s performance and multi-channel installation Reanimation (2013) was inspired by the novel Under the Glacier (1968) by Icelandic author Halldór Laxness. The performance incorporates poetic and documentary reflections on nature from the novel, as well as video projections, live drawings, objects, and music to create an icy, otherworldly atmosphere. Set to a score performed by artist and pianist Jason Moran, the work combines ancient and contemporary technologies—from tree branches and chalk as drawing tools, to closed-circuit video projections of the artist’s body and hands. The imagery in Reanimation is infused with a tension between the natural world and humankind’s attempts to render or grasp it. Jonas performed this work at various locations from 2012–15: Kassel, Germany; New York; Milan; Paris; and at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 2014.

The video and sculptural installation Ice Drawing (2012) is one component of Jonas’s masterwork installation, Reanimation. It features footage of Jonas creating an abstract drawing using ink and ice (a gesture that she carries out live during the performance). In the installation at the MFA, the projector’s light is refracted through a set of hanging crystals, spilling throughout the gallery and onto our bodies. Each fragment reveals all the spectral components of light, including colors that are imperceptible to the human eye. Implicated in the moment, and connected by the refracted constellation, we watch as the ink spills onto a pristine surface, and ice melts.