My experience of viewing Vertical Roll (Joan Jonas, 1972) was certainly a complicated one. The persistent sound of metal tapping, spanning a daunting 18 minutes, not only constantly diverted my attention from the visual but also stirred a sense of irritation in my mind. Jonas’s use of this sound, as I interpret it, follows a similar approach to Buñuel’s famous eye-slicing scene in Un Chien Andalou (Buñuel & Dali, 1929). It presents a challenge and even a taunt to the audience while implicitly underscoring that the work is not designed solely for entertainment. As the film commences, we observe images of a woman emerging in the vertical direction, coming closer and then away from the screen. This design not only echoes the film’s title but, more significantly, emulates the operation of a film projector. Given the era when the work was created, it is reasonable to deduce that Jonas intentionally made this choice to illustrate that video art, as an emerging art form, held a broader potential compared to film as it could produce a similar outcome with greater ease. Another piece of evidence supporting this notion is that each segment of the sections in which the motion of the feet and legs of the woman is captured is a dynamic video sequence rather than a static photo as in traditional film projection. Therefore, the audience is offered a series of moving videos instead of images.
As the film proceeds to its end, a woman enters the screen, disregarding and disrupting the projection-like framework. Slowly, she turns her face to look directly at the audience which shatters the fourth wall. After maintaining this gaze for a while, she slowly departs from the screen along with the vertical motion of the background frame. This design distinctly ends the resemblance between this video and a traditional film projection, serving as a vivid reminder to the audience that they are engaging with a completely new medium that can offer diverse presentation forms.
My questions for this work are:
- First and foremost, what is this video about? Is the woman who appears at the end the same individual as the subject of the video?
- How can we interpret the breaking of the fourth wall in the final scene?