Joan Jonas

Vertical Roll

Not on view



Video, black-and-white, sound, 19:38 min.

Aspect Ratio: 4:3

Accession number

Credit line
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Film and Video Committee

Rights and reproductions
© Joan Jonas. Courtesy Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York


Joan Jonas’s Vertical Roll is widely considered a seminal work in single channel video. In the work, the video monitor’s vertical hold is used as a formal device to rupture the perceived wholeness of the image on the screen. Interrupting the electronic signal, a rolling black bar scrolls relentlessly downward, revealing a segment of the image for a fraction of a second, in a staccato rhythm that echoes the process of blinking. Each “blink” offers a fleeting glimpse of a section of Jonas’s body as she performs in front of the camera–either garbed in a feather headdress, wearing a mask, in a belly dancer’s costume, or nude. The rhythm of the images is punctuated by the sound of Jonas relentlessly banging a silver spoon on a surface, which introduces an assertive tone. In her refusal to sustain her image within a fixed pictorial space, Jonas uses the mirror-like qualities of the video camera to present herself as a sequence of fragments, suggesting the impossibility of reading identity as something singular and unified.