Critical Review Essay

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 15.00.22
Video still from Joan Jonas Draw without Looking (2013)

Discuss the intersections of drawing, performance and video in the work of Joan Jonas with specific reference to Drawing without Looking (2013)

Making one performance from Joan Jonas’s extensive artistic practice the subject for this critical review arises from an interest that I still don’t find easy to articulate. Let me try, though: it possibly articulates first as question: ‘But is it drawing?’ I laugh at the question, and still I pose it. I keep posing it and keep seeking its answer(s). Is writing drawing? Is an instruction drawing? A performance? I realise that these questions are not new and find the relevant body of work (e.g., Sawdon & Marshall 2012, 2015; Garner 2008). I first turn towards  an in-between: the ambiguity that resides in the practice and object of drawing, and Derek Horton’s (2015, 1) refusal to answer my question above as guiding line for my own enquiry which eventually leads me to Jonas’s artistic practice:

to investigate the opportunities that arise if we are ambivalent to the answers to such a question, subvert any answers that might be given, or challenge the question itself.

Horton continues to chart the field for such ambivalence and ambiguity: the ubiquity of drawing, the relationship it maps out first between a working practice and a finished object, but later then too between something private (the working out) and something public (the finished drawing), and to arrive at the importance of ambiguity in exploring the ‘interpretative relationship between people and things or ideas (or representations of them)’ (ibid).

Joan Jonas (b 1936, New York) has explored such questions through performance, video and drawing spanning her artistic career from the early 1960s to date. The question of who and what and how and for whom; of artist/ performer, of artwork and process and of audience have been utilised by her with great attentiveness to chosen forms and intersections.

I chose one of her recent pieces, Draw without Looking (2013) (DwL), which at its centre poses the question of transmission, transition and translation. It is devised as a performance for camera and live streaming, i.e. it only exists in a digital, transmitted form. In it, Jonas, of course, draws, talks, writes, monitors, videos and screens, and above all: performs. An analysis of the performance (which is accessible freely and easily in its intended form: a YouTube clip, albeit no longer live) serves to explore Jonas’ notion of interdisciplinarity, transmission and the role of ambiguity in production, transmission and reception for her work.

The essay is structured as follows: I firstly introduce DwL before turning to the negotiations of different forms and practices in Jonas’s work. For this, I attend to three themes: fragments and transitions, spatial constructions and digital live transmission. The final part relates this at once back to the opening remarks around ambiguity and traces the relevance to my own work in the context of Drawing 2 and beyond.

Read the full review here: Critical Review Final 300918

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