Joan Jonas, one of the most significant artists in the history of video and performance, opened the BMW Tate Live Performance Room 2013 series with a new work Draw Without Looking created especially for an online audience.
Following the performance, Jonas spoke to curator Catherine Wood and answered questions from viewers posted on social media.
BMW Tate Live: Performance Room is a series of performances commissioned and conceived exclusively for the online space, and the first artistic programme created purely for live web broadcast.
JJ: Good evening. It is eight o’clock in London on February, 28th. We are in the Tate Museum. I have some directions here I’m going to use. I may not use them all...
Broken symmetry. Light heavy. Draw form. The space between. Walk, move object. The prop moves you. Draw around your objects. Draw the space between. Turn upside down and sideways. Draw without looking. Show object. Tell a story. Artist as anthropologist. Place two ideas side by side. What am I afraid of? Find a scene from a film. Play it. Present your version. Talk a bit about parades, banners, sticks, politics, et cetera. Feel the weight of your body. Nothing empty. No goal. Raise arms up and down while walking as in a series of stills in a film. Be aware of others in a space. Move in relation to others. Double your speed. Triple it. Stop.Imagine a floor plan. Move among large shapes. Distance. Signal near and far. Telepathy. Magic show. Ask a friend to give you a sentence. Add sound. Fragmented. Crushed. Turned inside out. Condensation and displacement. Mask the stage, the place. Write a story. How did we make this. Just begin. Space of the monetary. Hidden space. Get long and floppy sticks from the lumber yard. Poles. Work with poles. With trees. With blocks. Pieces of wood tied to your feet. Hold blocks, hit them together over head. Medium of water. Move as if at bottom of sea. Great pressure. Blindfolded. Edge of sea. The deep sea. If I could remember it would be simple things.I think I’ll skip to the end of all of this. Exchange movements. She flaked along, hesitating. Almost clumsy. Never completing a gesture. Body, part by part. Where does it take you? Weight. Lean. Fall. Warm up. Relax.
[pause, music playing and chanting from 03:09 to 14:42]
JJ: That’s it. Don’t go away. We’ll be right back.
TATE: Joan, firstly, thank you. Thank you so much that was beautiful.
JJ: Thank you.
TATE: Really beautiful. I was lost in the world you conjured in here. Okay. We’re getting comments and questions from people watching all round the world. We’ve got one, first of all, from somebody called Leanne Bell in London who wanted to ask you, how do you feel, do you get nervous even performing without an audience because it’s quite a strange experience?
JJ: Yes. I do.
TATE: You do?
JJ: Because the timing is different. You cannot begin a little bit later and you do it and that’s it. There’s all those factors. So, in this particular instance there was split second timing in relation to the video. So, you know, if I did this more than once I wouldn’t be nervous but this is the first time.
TATE: How does it compare performing...kind of knowing that people are watching online compared to feeling the presence?
JJ: I haven’t absorbed that yet but it’s different. With the audience you feel the presence. The warm presence. In here it’s daunting because you know there’s people you don’t know that are there on the other side of the camera but I like it. I think it’s very interesting.
TATE: And somebody asked actually specifically about that watching from Alexandria in Egypt. Are you imagining us watching you?
JJ: I love to imagine you watching me. No, but that’s, to me, so exciting. That is the exciting part that people from all over can watch something. So, that’s very interesting.
TATE: How does it compare to the experience of being in your studio when you’re performing to camera which you’ve done quite a lot, like in your loft?
JJ: Well, there’s not the pressure in my studio in performing to the camera.
TATE: But that’s something you do...you do as well as this.
JJ: I do but I’m so used to performing directly to the camera. So, in that sense it’s something that I do always but performing in this situation...it’s not an easy setup and the audience can’t see the technology that’s involved, which I find interesting. It’s complicated.
TATE: There’s a lot of it.
TATE: Somebody’s asked a question, how has the audience changed from the sixties to the present?
JJ: Well, it’s gotten very...well, somebody just said they’re in Alexandria. So, that never would have happened in the sixties. Believe me.
TATE: The global audience.
JJ: Although, you know, there were conversations via various devices but it was a much smaller audience and it was really depending on which city you were in. So, you know, it was very local in that sense.
TATE: There’s a question from Beth Jones in Ohio who asked about the music actually. Do you collaborate with the composer and who composed the music? Could you tell us more about it?
JJ: Yeah, Jason Moran, composed the music and then Andy Sambi composed the songs and I collaborate. This is music that we developed for a piece I just did re. animation but it’s a collaboration because we work it out together really. I mean, it’s his music but we work together on which music works and doesn’t work and then I edited this soundtrack. So, if he is watching I hope he liked my edit.
TATE: And how it went with the video.
JJ: Yeah, well, that was great.
TATE: Do you pace that?
JJ: Yeah, yeah, it was very deliberate.
TATE: Yeah, recording. Orla Smith from Dublin’s asked, are you inspired by mid-seventeenth century Phantasmagoria magic lanterns and the macabre?
TATE: She thought so.
TATE: And Janine Vanveen asked is this the first time to do a live performance online?
TATE: Yes. You took up our crazy suggestion.
JJ: I was very...I have to say I was nervous all along and it put a lot of pressure on me to try. It was a good challenge. And now...
TATE: It’s hard to say probably at this moment how you feel about the whole...
JJ: Yeah, I think that I have to absorb it.
JJ: I have to take it in.
TATE: And maybe when you watch it back too...
JJ: Well, yeah, I’m kind of dreading that.
TATE: It looked good from where I was sitting. Sara Jane Maston sent a question, what’s the symbol of the crystals that you used?
JJ: They’re not symbols they’re crystals, you know.
TATE: No...oh, she was asking what’s the symbolism of using crystals?
JJ: Well, it’s not a symbol. I mean, I don’t think about symbols but I use crystals because I was working...reanimation was concerned with snow and ice and so of course crystals...ice is made of crystals and so I saw these in a lighting store and decided to use them. So, they don’t have a...they’re not a symbol they’re actually representing crystals.
TATE: What they are.
JJ: They are.
TATE: How do you...you’re very...
JJ: Although they have kind of taken...
TATE: I mean the piece has had quite a different combination of textures in it between the paper, the wooden sticks, the paint that you’ve used on the back and that projection of a sparkling crystal. How much do you feel that this quality of textures can translate onto the screen? Is that a reduction for you from the live experience?
JJ: No, no, because paper can make...it’s all about creating kind of...I hate to use the word magic but, yeah, paper can be used in many different ways to create illusions and spacial situations and it can change the space and the colour. I use paper a lot. I think, it’s a wonderful material.
TATE: Yeah. I mean, I love the way in your work you combine the most kind of primitive form of making art in drawing and painting with new technologies.
JJ: Yeah, well, I like to go back to the basics and juxtapose it against high technology. That’s really...
TATE: There’s another question actually on this theme from Juan De Costa in Madrid which is what inspired you to do drawing without looking, which I remember you doing in a talk we did at Tate many years ago? He said, it is a metaphor for how we go about our lives?
JJ: Maybe. I mean, yeah, it could be but...well, I like people to read things in their own way. But I began...I think, I began doing that when I began to work with the close circuit television and I would draw looking at the monitor. You know, I would draw here and there’d be a camera on my hand..
TATE: Yeah, I remember you doing...
JJ: ...and I’d look at the monitor. So, I began drawing without looking and I’m very interested in how the drawing turns out that way. So, it’s a kind of device. So, I’ve used it on and off in different ways.
TATE: Is it related at all to how Jackson Pollack made paintings...
TATE: ...and an interest in sand drawing and...
TATE: No? It’s the antedote.
JJ: No, actually, I never thought of Jackson Pollack as a...I love him, he’s a genius, I mean, I love his work but no.
TATE: That’s something else.
JJ: It’s just my thing...I mean...
JJ: ...of course it’s related. I mean, artists have always in many cultures worked with drawing in the sand and drawing on the floor.
TATE: Yeah, that was I was thinking.
JJ: Yeah. Drawing on the...for me, it’s more related to...I saw [inaudible 21:44] Haitian footage unedited at one point. It was four hours long and people drawing over and over again with white powder and...
TATE: Wow, beautiful.
TATE: I remember your lines in the sand that you performed here. You were drawing in the sandbox.
JJ: Yeah. But also a mirage...I made a lot of...well, that was on a chalk board so.
TATE: We’ve still got lots of questions coming in so I’ll try and push through some of them. Carol Carol Carole, do you get lost in your work? That’s a good question because I got lost in your work when I was watching it. But do you get lost and what’s your state of mind while you’re moving?
JJ: Well, there’s two things. I mean, for instance, tonight is the first time so I was really having to concentrate on my movements and picking up and putting down in the right place. As I would do if I did this many times it would become more of a kind of magical place for me to be. But when I do it for the first time I have to...I can’t get lost or I would miss my queues. I have to really pay...
TATE: So, you need the repetition to get lost?
JJ: Well, I have to pay attention to all the queues. I mean, I’m looking at the TV queues. The sound queues. You know, each movement depends on the queues.
TATE: So, actually...
JJ: Like one...like I hear the phrase once, twice, okay, three times I have to stand up and move over, you know, so.
TATE: So, it’s actually kind of a myth about performance art that it’s spontaneous and authentic and one off?
JJ: Well, maybe some people...
TATE: In this case?
JJ: For some, not for me.
TATE: Yeah. No. Ben Bifford in London has asked, what’s the hardest thing about being a performance artist today?
JJ: At my age, physical.
TATE: Yeah, you’re dancing a lot.
JJ: No. No. I shouldn’t say that actually.
TATE: No, you’re doing pretty well.
JJ: The hardest thing about being a performance artist?
JJ: Well, sometimes it just seems so complicated. You have to have so many things. I did say...
TATE: You did say you wished you were drawing.
JJ: Well, I would just like to paint or draw.
TATE: Making a drawing, yeah.
JJ: Yeah. Instead of...
JJ: But then once you do it it’s worth it. That’s the way...I always have that...
JJ: ...you know, relationship.
TATE: So, it’s going through the process is not necessarily...
JJ: Yeah. It’s like torture, you know.
TATE: Oh dear. Now you’re out the other side.
JJ: No, don’t worry about it.
TATE: I feel bad. Sorry. Making you do it. Kathy in Nottingham says, Joan, does this relate to the early performances you did on video?
JJ: In some way. I mean, my persona...
TATE: But it feels...
JJ: ...you know, but I’m moving much faster. I’m jumping around in a very different way and, you know, it’s from...also everything has happened...in that way everything has gotten faster. Faster edits, you know. Like in this situation tonight we had to have 30 seconds to...between me being here and us coming back. It’s just split seconds that we’re getting used to, you know, and, I think, I’ve responded to that a little bit. And then I made this a video that’s very fast moving that I had to perform with. So, my early work was slow and a little bit more languid.
TATE: Yeah, because you said this is the shortest performance you’ve ever made and we were talking about the kind of density of attention online...that somehow shorter feels longer.
JJ: Well, you know, you feel that you have to keep the audience’s attention. I mean, you could do nothing and keep the audience’s attention. There are different ways.
JJ: So, this is my way.
TATE: Because as you said people are kind of surfing between different things all the time. So, it’s a different...
JJ: But I wasn’t really thinking about keeping the audience’s attention but in a way it’s a factor.
TATE: Yes. Sarah Little, oh sorry, Holly Slingsby in London has asked, can you talk about the flatness of digital space in relation to other uses of mediation in your practice? I mean, it kind of relates to what we were saying about the texture of paper and everything and you did use the different projection surfaces a lot for the things you were holding up.
JJ: Well, when I first saw this room I thought it was smaller than I had imagined but, yeah, I always try to do...space is something that’s always concerned me. So, I had to work it out right here in the last three days relating to this space and I’ve always fought against the flatness. Television is flat. You know, earlier television was flat. Not like film. Film has a depth. So, it’s something I’ve always been fighting against and how to create the illusion of depth. Like, when you look at a painting it’s an illusion you’re seeing of depth. So, that’s the way I think about the flatness and I don’t really...for me, I’m not thinking differently about digital or what came before.
TATE: Right. But it was always a concern of yours to somehow inhabit and kind of sculpt space within the image, within the flat image?
TATE: Yeah. I mean, I think, that really came across.
We have a few more questions coming in. We’ve got a little bit more time. So, do send them in if you’ve got more but there’s one here from Pedlano Contravento. He’s asked, what’s the relationship within...or between images and paintings? Is painting a point of reference for you? I mean, apart from...
JJ: Well, I’ve always...
TATE: ...the painting you do?
JJ: ...loved to look at paints, you know, when I was studying art history I looked at paintings and sculpture but...so painting in a way and I don’t...I use ink and paint and other liquids. That’s my painting, I don’t ever make a canvas with paint. I don’t paint in that other way. So, I make linear paintings but I don’t call them paintings I call them drawings.
TATE: Because you’ve used...as in the juniper tree piece that we’ve got on display upstairs...
TATE: ...in the bigger splash show. It feels as though actually the ritual of making them is as important as the result.
JJ: Well, that’s how they’re made.
TATE: They sort of carry that.
JJ: You know, because...you know, I make them and I’m not really thinking about what this is going to look like. Sorry.
TATE: Even with these fish drawings, which are so beautiful?
JJ: No. I mean, I’m trying to do something but I never...the reason I like to do them in performance is because they come out so strangely.
TATE: I think...well, it looks as though you know somehow what they’re going to look like figuratively too.
JJ: Well, I have...you know, I have a sort of a template. And I have a fish book that I look at but when I’m doing this I’m not thinking about which fish is this, or anything, I’m just...
TATE: There’s a pleasure in doing...
JJ: I mean, it’s a different way of working than making something that looks sort of like the original. It’s a further transformation.
TATE: Alessandria Buena asked, do you feel performance needs to be more in contact with new technologies? I always remember you as the first person I knew who had a Blackberry smartphone. So, you’ve always...I mean, you were early on using sort of video...
JJ: Yeah, why not, but I think...I’m not sure how far I’m going to go but, yes.
TATE: But you are quite fascinated by...and adept with...and into using new technology.
JJ: No, I think that the way I see technology, or any technology, it’s a way, it’s a device. It’s a tool. So, it enables you to do something...for me, it’s about working with the image in relation to the technology.
TATE: I mean, I like the fact you don’t seem to see a conflict between that and like you say the most primitive forms of image making, like you put the two...
JJ: Well, it’s kind of our way, you know, this is contemporary...this is...
JJ: ...the time we live in as far as the way we translate those things into form.
TATE: Yeah. Felix Rias from Valencia in Spain...we’ve got lots of questions coming all the time, sorry...what would you like to experiment with in upcoming performances with technology? Where next?
JJ: I have to absorb this first.
TATE: Maybe this is far enough.
JJ: This was something...I have to think, yeah. It was interesting to do this. Well, I’ve always thought actually...I’ve always been interested in the possibility of something online. I mean, people have been doing that...broadcasting from their lofts or their homes and putting it out on the web. I’ve never done that and I think it...I’m not sure I would do that but it interests me...this form interests me because, I think, it’s an interesting way to reach an audience and to communicate. So.
TATE: You’re not interested in net art per...you know, in making work that is about that technology per se it’s more using it as a tool?
JJ: It’s not...yeah, I don’t, you know, I haven’t really delved into that but I’m interested but not necessarily...
TATE: Actually using it this way doesn’t feel a million miles away from how you’d used videos in the past.
JJ: No, it isn’t. This is exactly the way I always worked. So, it’s not a new thing in that sense.
TATE: It’s a different take on the kind of solipsism of performing to video though, as you say, for knowing that there is an audience out there. Somehow imagining there is but not seeing them. It’s a strange double situation.
JJ: It’s very...I like it, I have to say. To be able to communicate...I mean, it’s very magical that you’re...I’d say your friends. You know, I hope some of my friends are watching.
TATE: We can rely on our friend’s friends.
JJ: But that...or people that you’ve met once or even that you don’t know are somewhere in the world watching. It’s amazing. I’ve never had that experience.
TATE: Speaking of which, we’ve just got time for or two more questions, I think, from people in different places. There’s one from [inaudible 31:19 - Ricoalition]. That’s a strange one. Do you think you might have been a musician in a former life? And music was a really powerful part of...
JJ: I hope so. That’s all I can say.
TATE: And Alice and Laura, how do you practice for a performance like that?
JJ: I work...I improvise...for this one I spent about a month making the video, the music, creating a situation. Then working in front of that and with the music...the music really inspires me. And then I improvise and I collect movements, objects, actions and then I practice and practice and practice. That’s really...
TATE: Did you feel you had enough time to practice?
JJ: Well, no, I mean, I could have, you know...but, yeah, we had just enough time. It’s always...
TATE: It looked like you did from the work.
JJ: ...sort of, just enough time.
TATE: Yeah. I think, we’ve just got time for this one last question now from Wendy Watson, who’s asked, do you plan to repeat this performance in places other than Tate? Actually, that’s a good question. I mean, would you see yourself making this piece live somewhere or do you think it’s record online is it?
JJ: Well, I made it for the television, you know, I didn’t make it for people to sit out there and watch. I think, it’s very different seeing it on the television than to see it in this room because the effects are for that screen. On the other hand, yes, I would do this again because I always repeat my performances. I hope I can.
JJ: That you don’t mind if I do that but I’ll certainly...I’m interested in this and thank you for asking me to do this because it made me make a new performance. So, I can carry this through to another situation I hope.
TATE: Well, thank you so much. It was beautiful and I think actually it would be amazing to see it live as well as on screen and thank you so much to everybody who sent in questions to enable this discussion with Joan to take place.
JJ: Thank you.
TATE: Thank you.