Monday, October 23, 2006
The Beacon Beckons
The TD crew embarked on an adventurous expedition to the Hudson hinterlands of Beacon. Popular demand brought an encore of Joan Jonas' performance, "The Shape, the Scent, the Feel of Things," so we seized the opportunity to experience it.
The site-specific, multi-media performance is inspired by Aby Warburg's writings and Jonas' "ongoing concern with the subject of ritual and performance." Indeed, she seemed like a witch doctor or shaman while drawing, dancing, and speaking.
Through interpretation of Warburg's writings and her own visits to the Hopi Indians, Jonas invokes Warburg's celebration of uncharted frontiers for its ability to foster man's essential needs - something the modern city can not do. Video segments and physical acts in "The Shape" evoke the relentless, meaningless clatter of industrialization; the excessively rapid, high-maintenance sprawl of cities; and the Sisyphian cycles of building and destroying civilizations. One segment presents desert landscape as an atmospheric site for meditation, then abruptly jumps to garish, flashing lights - Las Vegas - gaudy excess - while a fragile teepee is tossed about by the technological tempest. The piano accompaniment illustrates this violent upheaval. The suggestion is that Las Vegas, our bastion of entertainment and adventure, and a rapidly growing city, encroaches on the peaceful kingdom of the Natives. But Jonas doesn't stumble into a foolish Romanticism. Her video allows in some of the boredom inherent to the slow desert pace (though she excludes anything about the way Native American Reservations can profit from casinos).
The dramatic climax ties everything together and opens up the Hudson River site as another layer of significance in the performance.
We would praise Jonas for tackling this physically demanding and ambitious project even at age 70, but we don't have to. Although age seems prerequisite to her wisdom; "The Shape" is a tremendous accomplishment for an artist of any age.
The museum closed early for a VIP tour, so rather than leaving and having our full experience rent from our tender palms, we invited ourselves to join the tour. The highlight was getting to approach and then peer into Michael Heizer's holes, North, South, East, and West. We all laid on our stomachs to reduce our vulnerability of a misstep and subsequent bloody, mangled-up landing at the bottom.