What Do Fish Feel Like?

Joan Jonas, Fish Drawing from They See Our Sounds Installation, 2013, at Galleria Alessandra Bonomo

Joan Jonas, Fish Drawing from They See Our Sounds Installation, 2013, at Galleria Alessandra Bonomo

My first question is about this use of the word “we.” Who is “we,” and who are “we,” in this scenario?

When I say “we,” I mean classmates in the Art, Culture and Technology program, which according to its mission statement is a “part of the Department of Architecture, within the School of Architecture + Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” I’ve been a part of this Department since fall 2012 and have sometimes felt the part, having asked what I assume are common Department questions: How does living and working at MIT shape my output and ideas? Will CRON fix my computer today? Why is Jim Harrington so upset? Will I be making money later? What is architecture?

Are “we” architects? I’m afraid I have no working definition of architecture; neither am I working toward one. (Clearly not, then.) I’m being trained as a conceptual artist—which means what, exactly? We have a hard time answering that, and this is long before we arrive at architecture.

As much as ACT feels a part of the Department, it also feels apart, being sheltered away in the Media Lab across Ames St. on the far side of campus. Our conversations about creativity are regularly tinged with images of cruelty and capital. We also struggle to answer to these.


– – – – –

This is all to say that we went to New York City last weekend to see our professor Joan Jonas perform at Roulette, a venue near Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn. Her work Reanimation is a collaboration with the jazz pianist Jason Moran. It’s a collage of movement, music, drawing, video and voice, inspired by the novel Under the Glacier by Halldór Laxness. The images include ice breaking, Joan’s body, fish faces, many marbles, bells and hand-drawn masks. Also a big blue hat. The performance originally began at MIT in 2010 and it lasts about an hour. Here ends the factual segment of this post. My dissociated thoughts on the show:

  • Images are alive—living creatures, gasping for air, then wiped from memory. It would be perverse to think that images could be fixed like babies in formaldehyde. We preserve images by producing new ones. But I wonder about the Chinese landscape painter’s mandate to produce the same image repeatedly until it is perfect, and Joan’s own strategy of drawing multiple unlike copies, and performing multiple unlike shows called Reanimation. (I don’t have a conclusion; I am left wondering.)
  • Fish can in fact look like people when placed in the context of a deeply humanistic endeavor and framed in the style of a portrait. Their elongated flopping mouths express our own state of being caught sucking in each others’ air together. Aren’t we so much like the creatures in a glass tank, anyway? I am sure this is not what Joan intended to say.
  • You can notice a lot of finesse in crude drawings, which makes me think that very fine drawings can illustrate finesse without embodying it. Likewise, many crude drawings are made by people who don’t know what crude is. I have no one in mind; I am openly speculating because I can’t draw.
  • What is the opinion of the artist’s assistant who stands onstage, poker-faced, waiting for her cue to dangle a picture beneath a camera for a few seconds? Personally, would she have made a few changes to the program?

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