Joan Jonas: 'We should stop taking from the ocean'

How the performance legend became a staunch champion of life below water, co-presented with our partner Art Basel

Since starting out as part of New York’s 1960s Downtown art scene, Joan Jonas has cut a unique figure in the art world. Feminism, storytelling, dance, and traditional Asian theater have all informed her performance practice which has emerged as one of the most influential of the last half-century. Nature and landscape have also always prominently featured in her work – and over the last few years, Jonas’ focus has sharpened on underwater life and the ocean. In this new video – shot during New York’s lockdown – the veteran artist discusses how she produced a body of work urgently reminding us of our collective responsibility towards one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems.

For Jonas’s work ‘Moving Off the Land II’ the artist was commissioned by TBA21–Academy, a program which emerged in 2011 from TBA21 the contemporary art foundation established in 2002 by Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, in Vienna, the fourth generation of the Thyssen family to commit to the arts. The TBA21-Academy initiative combines philanthropy, art science, and advocacy, bringing together artists, researchers, and leading thinkers to mount voyages which seek to produce collaborative solutions to the oceans most urgent ecological, social, and economic issues. Joan Jonas’s work as well as collaborations with leading artists Claudia Comte, John Akomfrah, and Jana Winderen form part of the TBA21 collection and are presented as part of a multi-year collaboration in the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

‘I did this project because I admire the fact that TBA21-Academy devotes their resources to this question of saving the ocean,' explains Jonas, 'I think that’s so important’. In ‘Moving Off the Land II’, the artist dives into the ocean—both physically, and through the poetry and prose of writers who have gravitated towards it.

Jonas’ passion and practice advocates for Global Goal 14: Life Below Water, one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations. Oceans and seas cover 70 per cent of our planet and are essential to our existence, however they are in urgent need of protection from pollution and overfishing.

UBS is the co-founder of #TOGETHERBAND, a project which aims to raise awareness of the goals.

The Art in Action series is co-presented by UBS and Art Basel and brings together the voices of leading contemporary artists to explore today’s most pressing issues.

August 2020