America Is Hard to See

Solo en Inglès

This audio guide highlights selected works by artists in America Is Hard to See. Curators, scholars, and artists provide additional commentary.

510Joan Jonas, Vertical Roll, 1972


Joan Jonas (b. 1936), _Vertical Roll_, 1972. Video, black-and-white, sound, 19:38 min. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Film and Video Committee 2000.189 © Joan Jonas

NARRATOR: The image in Joan Jonas’s video Vertical Roll jumps continually. Jonas created this effect by disrupting the electronic signal so that there would be a “vertical roll”—a common problem on early television monitors. The roll obscures our view of the scene Jonas is taping. We have to peer through the screen’s surface to see into its imaginary depths. In this way, Jonas disrupts our ordinary viewing habits, reminding us that that the flatness of the televisual image is an illusion.

Jonas made this video in 1972—soon after becoming committed to the rising feminist movement. And it’s significant that she uses the technology of video to play upon the female form. The vertical roll obscures the image of the artist herself as she comes in and out of focus—sometimes nude, sometimes masked or costumed. Over time, the vertical roll’s effect can be disorienting, even slightly nauseating. Near the end of the video, Jonas appears in the costume of a belly dancer, and the camera lingers over her exposed middle. But by this time, it may have become very difficult to keep looking. The technology both invites our gaze and repels it—mediating our access to the image of the woman onscreen.