When I first watched Vertical Roll (Jonas, 1972), I struggled to understand quite what Joan Jonas was presenting us with. The disjointed, scrolling shots of Jonas’ body broken up by black bars and accompanied by audio of the repeated clanging of a spoon made for a challenging viewing experience. The constant fragmentation of her body within the video frame made me consider the idea of the fragmentation of one’s identity (possibly in relation to the medium of video?). Then, in the final minute, Jonas’ head enters the frame in front of the video screen, and she stares at the camera. While this conclusion might point to the liberation or unity of Jonas’ identity/body outside the screen or serve as a confrontation of the viewer, I failed to fully grasp the meanings of the film. I still don’t have a complete understanding of Vertical Roll, but this 2020 interview with Jonas provides fascinating context to her work and her fictional screen character of Organic Honey. The interview was conducted by Kristin Poor, Barbara Clausen, and Tracy Robinson from the Joan Jonas Knowledge Base.
One of the first topics Jonas discusses in the interview is the relationship between film and video. She states her fascination with the connection between the vertical roll on TV sets and the frames of film scrolling by. This fascination is incredibly apparent in Vertical Roll, as it essentially serves as the broad structure of the entire film. Another interesting section of the interview is Jonas’ discussion of how her performances/work was influenced by a video shoot of Marilyn Monroe. Joan explains that she read something about someone watching Marilyn Monroe being recorded by a camera pointed at her, while the viewer watched Marilyn from the side. The viewer was interested in the difference between the camera’s view of Marilyn versus his view of her. This story about the differing views/perspectives of someone influenced Jonas’ performances and the concept of being watched by an audience. Lastly, I was fascinated by Jonas’ discussion of the use of mirrors in her work. I didn’t realize when watching Vertical Roll that the opening shot of a spoon striking an image of Jonas’ face utilized a mirror. While the artist didn’t reveal any of the meanings behind the use of mirrors, it was fascinating to learn about the prevalence of different kinds of mirrors in her performances. Furthermore, it made me consider possible themes of the film relating to the mirror, such as trying to escape one’s self-image or serving as a further fragmentation/distancing of the subject from the viewer.