Electric Theater: Joan Jonas and the Emergence of Performance Art in the 1970s


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Art History and Archaeology


Throughout the 1970s, the American artist Joan Jonas brought the experimental sphere of theater into dialogue with electronic media: staging mediation and mediating the stage. Based on material from Jonas’s own archive, this dissertation examines how the convergence of theatrical presentation and video technology in her early work illuminates her crucial role in the parallel emergence of performance art. While performance and video art have since bifurcated into two distinct histories, Jonas, who has always belonged to both categories, is uniquely positioned to reveal their co-constitutive formation as well as the overlooked place of theater in this entwined genealogy. Theatrical techniques allowed Jonas to frame the increasingly mediatized conditions of everyday life; moreover, they enabled her to experiment with the instabilities and transformative potential of electronic imagery vis-à-vis contingencies of gender identity and representation that would become central artistic concerns by the close of the decade.