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Vertical Roll

Joan Jonas

1972 00:19:37 United StatesEnglishB&WMono4:31/2" open reel video


In this well-known early tape, Jonas manipulates the grammar of the camera to create the sense of a grossly disturbed physical space. The space functions as a metaphor for the unstable identity of the costumed and masked female figure roaming the screen, negotiating the rolling barrier of the screen’s bottom edge. “[Making] use of a jarring rhythmic technique to develop a sense of fragmentation, Vertical Roll uses a common television set malfunction of the same name to establish a constantly shifting stage for the actions that relate both to the nature of the image and to the artist’s projected psychological state.”

—David Ross, “Joan Jonas’s Videotapes” in Joan Jonas: Scripts and Descriptions, 1968-1982, ed. Douglas Crimp (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983)

This title was in the original Castelli-Sonnabend video art collection.

This title is also available on Surveying the First Decade: Volume 1.

About Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas studied sculpture and art history at Columbia University and Mount Holyoke College, and dance with Tricia Brown at the Boston Museum school. Widely known for her work in performance in the mid-'60s, Jonas first incorporated a live video camera and monitor into a 1972 performance, Organic Honey's Visual Telepathy. In the same year, she began producing single-channel tapes, among them Vertical Roll (1972), which are recognized as landmark investigations into the structural and performative nature of the medium.

Jonas's tapes draw on the essential connection between performance art and the video monitor, as time-based media especially suited to materializing the artist's psyche. Exploring the dislocation of physical space and mythical female archetypes, Jonas's work occupies an important position in the development of both early formalist and early feminist video.

"Space was always a primary concern, and in considering the space of the monitor I then dealt with the box-like structure, positioning it in relation to myself. I tried to climb into the box, attempting to turn the illusion of flatness into one of depth."
— Joan Jonas