Joan Jonas

Born in 1936 à New York (US)
Lives and works in New York (US)

Good Night Good Morning

b&w video, sound
durée : 11'38''
Year of Purchase: 2009

One cannot imagine a more basic and straightforward video. Over three distinct periods, the artist Joan Jonas, a pioneer of video art and performance, filmed herself every morning and evening. She would address the camera and just say: “Good morning” or “Good night”―depending on whether she just got up or was about to go to bed. The video thus becomes a perverse form of personal diary: perverse because it is without narrative. Laconic. It reveals nothing of the rest of the artist’s life, of what goes on off-screen. It follows an absurd, repetitive protocol, as if attempting to mark time―as well as space―since the frame and the setting are different each time. Implacable personal, narcissistic chronology which could function as a sort of “self-alarm-clock.”

The film, unskillfully shot, deliberately resorts to a crude technique. In a practical, concrete way it utilizes the quintessential qualities of video: a record of passing time and a principle of (self-)surveillance. This functional use of a medium still new at the time evokes the experiments by the contemporaneous Belgian artist Lili Dujourie who was interested in a sort of disillusioned voyeurism. With a mild irony about its own desire to exhaust the possibilities of this arbitrary protocol, Good Night Good Morning also alludes to Bruce Nauman’s repetitive, obsessive videos, or to rehearsalin the famous video I’m making art (1971) by John Baldessari. In other words, art is to be practiced in the same way one exercises or stretches one’s muscles: as a daily ritual, a health regime that is part of real life. In general terms, the video appears symptomatic of a mindset that privileges intentions over objects and discipline over the result. A performance technique which essentially consists of “decisiveness” as its primary ingredient.

However, this approach also allows the artist to play with video form as such. Apparently neutral frames are carefully composed each time, like small-scale tableaux. The artist intervenes within the selected frame, playing with diagonal lines, depth of field, and at times even with topographic disorientation―all in an attempt to exhaust the possibilities of the medium. In addition, the screen turned over on the side offers a vertical format which frames a series of portraits. A window opens onto a world: the artist’s own. However, is this communication? Are these greetings really forms of address? Speaking directly to the camera, the artist uses it as a mirror. This is a very important motif in her work, and has been present since her first performances (see, for example, her Mirror pieces, 1968). A Lacanian theme of the formation of the self, the mirror (in this case, technological)is a pretext to play with the question of (female) identity, but also of self-suggestion and pathological reflexivity.

A multimedia artist par excellence, Joan Jonas demonstrates with this work―simple in its execution, but complex in its problematic―the continuous connections developed by the artists of her generation between performance (body, decision), concepts (notion of identity, the cyclical nature of time), and sculpture (space)―the whole tied directly to the issues of representations that are related to the development of the video medium.

Guillaume Désanges