Joan Jonas.
Moving Off the Land II
May 24 – September 29, 2019
Ocean Space, Venice

Joan Jonas, Moving Off the Land II, at Ocean Space, Chiesa di San Lorenzo, Venice 2019 © Photo Enrico Fiorese, TBA21-Academy
Joan Jonas, Moving Off the Land II, at Ocean Space, Chiesa di San Lorenzo, Venice 2019 © Photo Enrico Fiorese, TBA21-Academy
Joan Jonas, Moving Off the Land II, at Ocean Space, Chiesa di San Lorenzo, Venice 2019 © Photo Enrico Fiorese, TBA21-Academy
Joan Jonas, Moving Off the Land II, at Ocean Space, Chiesa di San Lorenzo, Venice 2019 © Photo Enrico Fiorese, TBA21-Academy
Joan Jonas, Moving Off the Land II, at Ocean Space, Chiesa di San Lorenzo, Venice 2019 © Photo Enrico Fiorese, TBA21-Academy
Ocean Space Venice

Joan Jonas’s exhibition “Moving Off the Land II” is the inaugural public project at the Ocean Space. The installation is the culmination of three years of intensive research in aquariums around the world as well as in the waters off the coast of Jamaica, commissioned by TBA21–Academy. Curated by Stefanie Hessler, and on view from March 24 until September 29, 2019, “Moving Off the Land II” unfolds across 500 square meters of what was once the nave of the church of San Lorenzo. The show comprises new video, sculpture, drawing, and sound works, as well as a performance on May 7, 2019, centering on the role the oceans have played for cultures throughout history as a totemic, spiritual, and ecological touchstone.

Joan Jonas is one of the most renowned artists of her generation. She is celebrated for her groundbreaking work in performance, installation, and video since the 1960s. At a time when art started leaving the confines of the gallery space, Jonas created work that converged with dance, music, and theater. Ever since, her work has tackled complex questions regarding humans’ relationship with the environment. Jonas represented the United States at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015. With this new work, she returns to Venice and revisits some of the themes touched upon in her US Pavilion exhibition “They Come to Us Without a Word”: the natural world and the animals inhabiting it—from bees to fish—as well as the present danger of climate change and extinction. 

The oceans are a recurring motif in Jonas’s work. For the video Waltz (2003), she visited a beach near the woods in Nova Scotia, where she spent most of her summers since the early 1970s. With a group of friends and accompanied by her dog, Jonas performed a series of imagined, abstract rituals involving objects such as masks, a staff, and mirrors. The work calls to mind ancient fairy tales and myths surrounding the oceans as well their raw and fragile beauty. Beach Piece (1970) was performed at Jones Beach in Long Island, New York, where the audience was invited to stand on the muddy ground as performers appeared from and disappeared into sand dunes. Jonas, wearing a white sports mask, stood on a ladder with a mirror and reflected the sun back at the audience. In the installation Reanimation (2012), Jonas focused on Icelandic and Norwegian landscapes and their representations in age-old sagas as well as in the writing of the poet Halldór Laxness, resulting in an evocative merging of air, land, glaciers, and sea. 

In “Moving Off the Land II,” Jonas pays tribute to the oceans and their creatures, biodiversity, and delicate ecology. Her new works dive deep into the ocean water, swim with the fish inhabiting it, and weave in literature and poetry by writers who have homed in on the liquid masses that cover two thirds of the planet. Following the methodology that has gained her lauded reputation, Jonas combines poetry and prose by writers like Emily Dickinson and Herman Melville with texts by Rachel Carson and Sy Montgomery, and with moving images filmed in aquariums and in Jamaica, where algae bloom and overfishing pose urgent threats to the environment. 

In the last year and a half, as part of a sustained dialogue about their respective work, the marine biologist and coral reef and photosynthesis expert David Gruber has shared with Jonas his captivating underwater recordings that focus on biofluorescence. In 2018, Gruber visited Jonas at her summer home in Cape Breton, Canada, where he shot footage of her dog, Ozu, playing with the surf on the shoreline. The rich imagery by Gruber and other collaborators is juxtaposed with Jonas’s own voice and that of young people she frequently collaborates with, as well as music by the celebrated composer and drummer Ikue Mori and by the acclaimed musicians María Huld Markan Sigfusdottir and Ánde Somby. In her unique visual language, Jonas has created a confluence of the poetic and the observational, of mythological folklore, contemporary narratives, and scientific studies, inviting viewers to plunge into a spellbinding experience.

The exhibition at Ocean Space is the first in a series of shows, performances, symposia, concerts, screenings, and other events organized by TBA21–Academy that explore the oceans from different perspectives over the course of the coming years.

As a digital extension of Joan Jonas’s exhibition, Ocean Archive, a project initiated by TBA21–Academy and currently under construction, will publish a selection of complementary materials that have influenced and informed the exhibition in Venice. Ocean Archive is a digital colaboratory operating at the intersection of scientific inquiry, artistic intelligence, and environmental advocacy. The platform hosts materials related to Academy expeditions, exhibitions, and public events and integrates these into a curated selection of additional ocean-related art, scholarship, and information about policy and conservation efforts. Designed to facilitate discovery, cooperation, and knowledge co-production, Ocean Archive is currently being developed in collaboration with Across the Cloud and will be launched at the Ocean Space in Venice, Italy, on September 28, 2019.

Office for Political Innovation by Andrés Jaque collaborated with Joan Jonas to create a setting where the performance Moving Off the Land will be presented on May 7. 

Moving Off the Land II is commissioned by TBA21–Academy and co-produced with Luma Foundation.
Stefanie Hessler
May 7, 2019 at 21:00 and 23:00

Performance by Joan Jonas at Ocean Space.

Limited capacity.
Free entry.
Booking available here.