Joan Jonas

They Come to Us without a Word


For the five galleries of the U.S. Pavilion, Joan Jonas conceived a new complex of works, creating a multilayered ambiance, incorporating video, drawings, objects, and sound. Literature has always been an inspiration and source for Jonas, and the project for Venice extends her investigation into the work of Halldór Laxness and his writing on the spiritual aspects of nature, as well as other literary sources.

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, conceived by Jonas and 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, where old Venetian crystal beads hang on a chandelier-like structure suspended from the middle of the ceiling. The ambience reflects the viewer and the exterior of the Giardini intersected by video images. An outdoor piece in the courtyard, consisting of tree trunks from the nearby Certosa Island held tightly together by copper wire, echoes the themes of the exhibition.

Jonas developed the videos in New York in winter 2015, during a series of workshops 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 exhibition will travel to NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore January 22 – April 3, 2016: More Information