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VERTICAL ROLL a film by JOAN JONAS. 1972, USA, 19 min. The Downtown New York performance artist crafts a glitchy, subversive self-portrait.

This film screened exclusively for a week and is currently not available online.

We’re thrilled to partner with Dia Art Foundation to celebrate their exhibition of newly commissioned works from artist Lucy Raven at the recently reopened Dia Chelsea. The show features the premiere of Raven’s latest 45-minute film, Ready Mix; in response to this piece, Raven asked a group of artists to select and screen a film of their choice.

 

Following last week’s presentation of Michael Snow’s Cityscape, we’re honored to host photographer and filmmaker Sharon Lockhart’s selection: Vertical Roll, a video piece by interdisciplinary performance artist Joan Jonas, who will be the subject of a retrospective at Dia Beacon opening in October. This fall, Dia will host live screenings of additional selections at Dia Chelsea.

 

Lockhart is a Los Angeles–based artist whose work explores issues of labor and collaborative portraiture. By selecting Vertical Roll, Lockhart looks back to New York in the early ’70s, where Jonas—who studied with postmodern choreographer Trisha Brown, one of the founders of the Judson Dance Theater—sought to bridge performance and visual art. Vertical Roll is one such example: as if the screen is glitching, a horizontal bar scrolls repeatedly down close-ups of Jonas’s limbs and torso, which complicates the possibility of “seeing” her completely.

 

 

 

 

Lockhart kindly sent a statement on her selection of Jonas’s work:

 

When asked to choose a work to pair with Lucy Raven’s Ready Mix, my mind went immediately to the work of the men that so conspicuously occupy Dia’s large space in Beacon. After all, Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970), much of Michael Heizer’s work, and Richard Serra’s work with both concrete and his film Railroad Turnbridge (1976) have obvious connections to Raven’s film documenting the making of concrete blocks.

 

It didn’t quite seem right, though. I think of Lucy as a feminist occupying the materials of her patriarchal forebearers in a particularly interesting way. Watching the first eight minutes of Ready Mix, as the barrel of a cement truck rolls over and over, an alternative came to mind. The flatness of the surface, punctuated by a line of shadow, persisted for a duration that allowed my mind to wander to Joan Jonas’s 1972 work, Vertical Roll.

 

I liked the connection. Jonas’s embrace of a durational structure was an influence on my own work as well as younger artists like Raven. As you move through Vertical Roll, the piece unfolds slowly. Similarly, Ready Mix reveals itself. It is only after the truck moves out of frame that you understand what you’ve been watching, and a complete understanding of the work is withheld until the final block finds its place, concluding the film. In the last two minutes of Jonas’s film, the artist’s face slowly enters the frame. This breaks the flatness of the screen you’ve been watching, creates a three-dimensional space, and literally inserts her body in between the screen and the camera, confronting viewers with her stare.

 

While Jonas’s subject is the female body and its representation, Vertical Roll’s form connotes the industrial, as the stark black and white of early video is combined with the technological in its interrupted video signal, and the raw metallic sound of a spoon marking the time. The importance of Jonas to those of us who think of video as a performative and spatial endeavor cannot be overstated. As Raven occupies Dia’s Chelsea space with her ode to industry, it seems fitting to acknowledge this with a work by one of the women included in Dia’s collection.

 

Jonas was born in New York in 1938, and has studied art history, drawing, and sculpture. Her performances have been staged at the Kitchen, SFMOMA, Minneapolis’s Walker Arts Center, and more, and she was a defining figure of the Downtown New York dance scene alongside Yvonne Rainer, Deborah Hay, and Steve Paxton. She’s also made multimedia work inspired by Japanese Noh theater and Icelandic poetry, including Volcano Saga, which she adapted into a 1989 video piece with Tilda Swinton. More recently, she designed an installation for the United States pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale, and won the Kyoto Prize for Arts and Philosophy in 2018. She is based in New York and is Professor Emerita of the Art, Culture, and Technology program at MIT.

 

Taking its name from the Greek word meaning “through,” Dia was established in 1974 with the mission to serve as a conduit for artists to realize ambitious new projects, unmediated by overt interpretation and uncurbed by the limitations of more traditional museums and galleries. Dia’s programming fosters contemplative and sustained consideration of a single artist’s body of work and its collection is distinguished by the deep and longstanding relationships that the nonprofit has cultivated with artists whose work came to prominence particularly in the 1960s and ’70s. In addition to Dia Beacon, Dia Bridgehampton, and Dia Chelsea, Dia maintains and operates a constellation of commissions, long-term installations, and site-specific projects, notably focused on Land art, including Max Neuhaus’s Times Square (1977) in New York, Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field (1977) in New Mexico, Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) and Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels (1973–76) in Utah.

 

Text written by Chloe Lizotte. Special thanks to Lucy Raven, Alexis Lowry & Dia Art Foundation for this collaboration.