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Special Mention for National Participation at la Biennale awarded to Joan Jonas at the U.S. Pavilion
Joan Jonas and her dog Ozu. Photo: Moira Ricci.

VENICE.- The MIT List Visual Arts Center, commissioning institution for the United States Pavilion at the 56th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia, announced today that the U.S. representative and pioneering figure in video and performance art, Joan Jonas, has been awarded a prestigious Special Mention for her installation They Come to Us without a Word. According to a statement from the Biennale, Jonas received this award for the significance of her oeuvre and her artistic influence.

Chaired by Paolo Barrata, Director of the 56th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia, the award ceremony took place on May 9, 2015 at Ca’ Giustinian. The selection was made by an international jury, including Naomi Beckwith, curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Sabine Bergeweiser, director of the Museum der Moderne Salzburg; Mario Codognato, the chief curator of er Haus Vienna; Ranjit Hoskote, a writer and curator from India; and Yongwoo Lee, a curator and former director of the Gwangju Biennale Foundation, who presented the award to Jonas.

Joan Jonas’s They Come to Us without a Word is presented by the MIT List Visual Arts Center in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State at the 56th International Art Exhibition - la Biennale di Venezia. Co-curated by Paul C. Ha, Director of the MIT List Visual Arts Center and Ute Meta Bauer, Director of the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, They Come to Us without a Word evolved out of an earlier work, Reanimation, first presented as a performance in 2010 at MIT, where Jonas has taught for 15 years. Reanimation was partly inspired by the writings of Icelandic author Halldór Laxness and his poetic portrayal of the natural world. They Come to Us without a Word evokes the fragility of nature in a rapidly changing situation, with each room of the Pavilion depicting a specific subject, such as bees or fish. Fragments of ghost stories sourced from an oral tradition in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, form a nonlinear narrative linking one room to the next.

A new performance by the artist will take place in Venice in July, with new music by Jonas’s long-time sound collaborator, American jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran. Entitled They Come to Us without a Word II, the performance will occur on July 20, 21, and 22 at the Teatro Piccolo Arsenale, and will feature reedited video footage from her installation in the Pavilion.

“Joan’s voice and vision have been powerful forces in contemporary art for five decades and They Come to Us without a Word is as fearlessly experimental a work as ever, and a testament to the innovative promise of her future work” said Paul C. Ha, Director of the MIT List Visual Arts Center. “

“As I know from working with Joan as both a curator and educator, one does not only see her work, one experiences it. They Come to Us without a Word leaves a lasting impression, and Joan’s ability to work with spaces in a sensual way turns a visit to the U.S. Pavilion in Venice into a profound encounter,” said Ute Meta Bauer, Director of the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, Nanyang Technological University.

Joan Jonas (b. 1936, New York, New York, USA) is a pioneer of video and performance art, and an acclaimed multimedia artist whose work typically encompasses video, performance, installation, sound, text, and drawing. Trained in art history and sculpture, Jonas was a central figure in the video and performance art movement of the late 1960s, and her experiments and productions in the late 1960s and early 1970s continue to be crucial to the development of many contemporary art genres, from performance and video to conceptual art and theater. Since 1968, her practice has explored ways of seeing, the rhythms of ritual, and the authority of objects and gestures.

The recipient of numerous honors and awards, Jonas’s most recent solo exhibitions include those at HangarBicocca, Milan (2014); Centre for Contemporary Art, Kitakyushu Project Gallery, Japan (2014); Kulturhuset Stadsteatern Stockholm (2013); Proyecto Paralelo, Mexico (2013); Contemporary Art Museum, Houston (2013); Bergen Kunsthall, Norway (2011); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010); and MACBA, Barcelona (2007-2008). She has been represented in documenta in Kassel, Germany six times since 1972, and has had major retrospectives at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Galerie der Stadt Stuttgart, Germany; and the Queens Museum of Art, New York. Joan Jonas is a New York native and she continues to live and work in New York City. She received a B.A. in Art History from Mount Holyoke College in 1958, studied sculpture at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and received an M.F.A. in Sculpture from Columbia University in 1965. Jonas has taught at MIT since 1998, and is currently Professor Emerita in the MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology. In June 2015, Gregory R. Miller & Co. will publish the first comprehensive monograph of Jonas’s work, edited by Joan Simon, titled In the Shadow of a Shadow: The Work of Joan Jonas.

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