Press Release




Presented by the MIT List Visual Arts Center

Commissioner and Co-Curator: Paul C. Ha, Director of the MIT List Visual Arts Center

Co-Curator: Ute Meta Bauer, Director of the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, Nanyang Technological University

Media Contact:  Leah Talatinian | Arts at MIT | +1.617.253.5351 |


United States Pavilion, Giardini della Biennale, Venice, Italy

MAY 9 – NOVEMBER 22, 2015

10:00 – 18:00 (closed Mondays)

Vaporetto Stops: Giardini 1, 2, 8, 4.1, 4.2, 5.1, 5.2, 6.1, 6.2


MAY 6 – 8, 2015, 10:00 – 19:00

United States Pavilion, Giardini della Biennale


THURSDAY, MAY 7, 2013, 11:30

United States Pavilion, Giardini della Biennale

Venice, Italy, May 6, 2015 – 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. Jonas, a pioneering figure in video and performance art, is occupying the entirety of the Pavilion’s five galleries with a new video installation involving drawings and sculptural elements. A new performance by the artist is also planned for Venice in July 2015, with new music by Jonas’s long-time collaborator Jason Moran, American jazz pianist and composer. On the occasion of the closing of the Biennale in November Joan Jonas will perform her recent work Reanimation, also with music by Jason Moran, in the historical Venetian theater, Teatro Goldoni.

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 depiction of the natural world. They Come to Us without a Word evokes the fragility of nature, with each room of the Pavilion employing specific elements, such as bees or wind. Fragments of ghost stories sourced from an oral tradition in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, form a nonlinear narrative linking one room to the next. “Ghosts are very much alive there, as in all parts of the world,” Jonas states. “We are haunted, the rooms are haunted.”

In each of the four rooms of the Pavilion there are two video projections—one presenting the main motif of the room and the other the ghost narrative, a continuous thread running through the exhibition spaces. Free-standing rippled mirrors, handcrafted in Murano specifically for this project, are placed in each room alongside Jonas’s highly distinctive drawings and kites, as well as a selection of objects that were used as props in her videos. This arrangement creates the sense of a stage set. Similar mirrors cover the panels of the Pavilion’s rotunda beneath a chandelier of old Venetian crystal beads suspended from the ceiling—a place where the architecture reflects the viewer and the surrounding vegetation. An outdoor piece, consisting of dead tree trunks from the near Certosa Island held together by wire, echoes the themes of the installation.

Jonas developed the videos in New York in winter 2015, with children ranging in age from five to 16 performing against video backdrops of landscapes shot by Jonas mostly in Nova Scotia, Canada, and Brooklyn, New York. Sources also include several early videos by Jonas. They Come to Us without a Word is animated by a soundtrack designed by Jonas, using excerpts of music by Jason Moran and songs by the Norwegian Sami singer Ánde Somby. The customized lighting is conceived by designer Jan Kroeze.

The video footage shown in the Pavilion is being reedited for the performance in Venice in July 2015, as Jonas further explores the themes of They Come to Us without a Word in a continuing collaboration with Moran. More information about the performances is available at

“Although the idea of my work involves the question of how the world is so rapidly and radically changing, I do not address the subject directly or didactically,” said Jonas. “Rather, the ideas are implied poetically through sound, lighting and the juxtaposition of images of children, animals and landscape.”

Jonas has been a tenured visual arts professor at MIT for the past 15 years, and is currently Professor Emerita in the MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology (ACT) in MIT’s School of Architecture + Planning, making the artist’s installation for the U.S. Pavilion an exceptional moment in her long-standing relationship with MIT. The List is renowned for presenting groundbreaking contemporary artwork and has always served as a creative laboratory where artists are free to experiment—a leadership position that has been affirmed by the List’s selection as the commissioning institution for the U.S. Pavilion for the third time in the past 15 years, having organized the pavilions by Fred Wilson in 2003 and Ann Hamilton in 1999.

“Joan’s voice and vision have been powerful forces in contemporary art for five decades, and I am thrilled to present They Come to Us without a Word in Venice, one of the most iconic forums for the presentation of cutting-edge artwork,” said Paul C. Ha, Director of the MIT List Visual Arts Center. “Joan’s selection is not only an acknowledgement of her outstanding contributions to the art world thus far, but also an investment in the innovative promise of her future work.”

“As I know from working with Joan as both a curator and educator, one does not only see her work, one experiences it. Her multimedia installations make a lasting impression, and her 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.

Jonas’s work developed out of her art-history studies and sculptural practice, and expanded to performance and film in the 1960s through her involvement with the New York avant-garde. Jonas has employed an interdisciplinary approach throughout her career, being one of the first artists to explore the potential of the video camera as a tool for image-making and the TV monitor as a sculptural object. At the same time, she has experimented in developing her own visual language in relation to the figure and physical space. Her installations, video works, and performances bring these components together with drawings, props, objects, and language, reflecting her research into how the image is altered through the mediums of mirror, distance, video, and narrative. In Venice, she pursues this research in relation to figure and ground, working with new themes, like the ghost story, while integrating all the diverse aspects of her practice.

“We are especially proud to be presenting an MIT professor as the representative artist for the United States at the Venice Biennale,” said Philip S. Khoury, Ford International Professor of History and Associate Provost, who oversees the arts at MIT. “Joan’s fearlessly experimental work is emblematic of MIT and the List’s mission to foster the creation of intellectually investigative, challenging artwork, and we have no doubt that her installation for the U.S. Pavilion will push new boundaries and captivate audiences in ways that were previously unimaginable.”

A fully illustrated catalogue, published by Gregory R. Miller & Co., will be released in June in conjunction with the exhibition They Come to Us without a Word.  Edited by Jane Farver, the publication will feature essays by Ann Reynolds, Ingrid Schaffner, and Marina Warner.



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 (Fall 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); and Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010). 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, titled In the Shadow of a Shadow: The Work of Joan Jonas.


Paul C. Ha is the Director of the MIT List Visual Arts Center, and has more than 25 years of professional experience in art and museum administration, fundraising, curating, and teaching. Since joining the List in 2011, Ha has founded the exhibition program List Projects, which commissions emerging artists to create site-specific installations at the museum. As the inaugural Director of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis from 2002 to 2011, he developed new programming that expanded the Museum’s audiences both locally and internationally, raised more than $40 million for the institution and established a $5-million endowment—the Museum’s first, and positioned CAM as a leader in the contemporary art field. Ha has curated and worked with over 100 artists in solo and group exhibitions, and many artists received their first major museum exhibitions under his leadership at the List Center and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, as well as when he was Director at White Columns gallery in New York, and Deputy Director of Programs and External Affairs at Yale University Art Gallery.

Ute Meta Bauer is a veteran curator of exhibitions and presentations on contemporary art, film, video, and sound, with a focus on transdisciplinary formats. She is the Founding Director of the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), where she is also a professor in the School of Art, Media, and Design. She curated Theatrical Fields, commissioned by Bildmuseet Umeå, Sweden (2013-14), which includes various works by Joan Jonas and was shown summer 2014 at the NTU CCA in Singapore. Bauer is a former MIT professor, having served as the Founding Director of the Program in Art, Culture, and Technology at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, and as Director of the MIT Visual Arts Program. She was Co-Director of the World Biennial Forum No. 1 with Hou Hanru, Gwangju, Korea (2012); Artistic Director of the 3rd Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art (2004); and Co-Curator of dOCUMENTA 11 (2001–2002) on the team of Okwui Enwezor. Most recently she co-edited World Biennale Forum No 1 – Shifting Gravity and AR – Artistic Research (both published in 2013).


The Venice Biennale dates to 1895, when the first International Art Exhibition was organized. It is one of the most important international biennials and cultural institutions in the world, introducing hundreds of thousands of visitors to exciting new art every two years. The 56th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia (May 9 – November 22, 2015) is directed by Okwui Enwezor, a curator, art critic, and writer, and the Director of the Haus der Kunst, Munich.


Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the List Visual Arts Center is a creative laboratory that provides artists with a space to freely experiment and push existing boundaries. As the contemporary art museum at MIT, the List presents a dynamic program of six to nine special exhibitions in its galleries annually, a program of evolving site-specific work by emerging artists known as the List Projects, as well as a broad range of educational programs, events, and scholarly publications. Beyond the full slate of special exhibitions and projects it presents each year, the List also maintains and adds to MIT’s permanent collection; commissions new works through the MIT Percent-for-Art program, a collection of more than 50 site-specific artworks throughout the campus; and oversees the Student Loan Art Program, which lends more than 500 works of art annually to MIT undergraduate and graduate students.

Originally named the Hayden Gallery, MIT established this center for the visual arts in 1950 to provide a dedicated structure upon which to build the university’s existing relationship to the arts. It was renamed the List Visual Arts Center in 1985 in recognition of a gift from Vera and Albert List, and relocated to its current, expanded location in the Wiesner Building on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which was designed by MIT alumnus I. M. Pei (B.S. Architecture, 1940) and Partners Architects.

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Nearly 80 percent of incoming freshmen have prior training in the arts and nearly 50 percent of all MIT undergraduates enroll in arts courses each year. The arts at MIT connect creative minds across disciplines and encourage a lifetime of exploration and self-discovery. As an example, MIT’s visiting artists program enables contemporary artists to engage with MIT’s unparalleled environment of pioneering research, unbounded risk-taking, and imaginative problem solving, and has previously hosted artists such as Olafur Eliasson, Trevor Paglen, Tomás Saraceno, Vik Muniz, Mel Chin, and Rick Lowe.

The arts strengthen MIT’s commitment to the aesthetic, human, and social dimensions of research and innovation. Artistic knowledge and creation exemplify MIT’s motto—mens et manus, mind and hand. The arts are essential to MIT’s mission to build a better society and meet the challenges of the 21st century.

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The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) builds relations between people of the United States and the people of other countries through academic, cultural, sports and professional exchange programs, as well as public-private partnerships and mentoring programs. These exchange programs improve foreign relations and strengthen the national security of the United States, support U.S. international leadership, and provide a broad range of domestic benefits by helping break down barriers that often divide us, like religion, politics, language and ethnicity, and geography. ECA programs build connections that engage and empower people, and motivate them to become leaders and thinkers; to develop new skills; and to find connections that will create positive change in their communities. Alumni of ECA exchange programs comprise over one million people around the world, including more than 40 Nobel Laureates and more than 300 current or former heads of state and government around the world.

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The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs supports and manages official U.S. participation at the 56th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia. The selection of Joan Jonas’s They Come to Us without a Word for the U.S. Pavilion in 2015 resulted from an open competition and the recommendations of the Federal Advisory Committee on International Exhibitions, convened by the National Endowment for the Arts.



Joan Jonas’s They Come to Us without a Word, the official U.S. presentation at the 56th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia, is organized by the MIT List Visual Arts Center and is presented by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State. The exhibition is produced with the collaboration of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice (Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York). Lead foundation support has been provided by the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation; lead individual support has been provided by Cynthia and John Reed. Additional funding has come from The Council for the Arts at MIT, Toby Devan Lewis, clé de peau BEAUTÉ – Shiseido, VIA Art Fund, Artnet, Agnes Gund, Lambent Foundation, Karen and Gregory Arenson, Barbara and Julian Cherubini, Alison and John Ferring, Charlotte Feng Ford, Carolyn Fine Friedman and Jerry Friedman, Pamela and Richard Kramlich, Barbara Lee Family Foundation, Lore Harp McGovern, Jane and Neil Pappalardo, Office of the Associate Provost of MIT, Office of the Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning of MIT, Office of the President of MIT, Office of the Provost of MIT, Elizabeth A. Sackler, Francis H. Williams, Anonymous, and numerous other individuals.


Additional information and images available here.

Press release about the July 2015 performances of They Come to Us without a Word II available here.

Follow the MIT List Visual Arts Center on Twitter: @MITListCenter, Instagram: @mitlistarts, or Facebook: MIT List Visual Arts Center, for updates from Venice and look for #JoanJonasVenice.