Part One – Jeff Goodell on Joan Jonas’ Wind

If the Sky Were Orange: Art in the Time of Climate Change

Part One – Humanity Against the Elements: Jeff Goodell on Joan Jonas’ Wind

Joan Jonas titled her 1968 film Wind — not The Wind or A Windy Day at the Beach. And that’s fitting. Like the title, the film is stark, elemental. It’s a performance piece, shot on a Long Island beach near where Jonas grew up. The people are actors. Their moves are choreographed. In contrast, the wind is wild. It pushes people around, makes it difficult for them to stand up. They wrap themselves in fabric but that just makes it worse — they fall over. The film is only six minutes long, but in those six minutes you feel the entirety of human-kind’s struggle with nature — the thrill, the danger, the beauty. The fact that the film is black and white, silent, jerky, sped-up only adds to the drama, giving it a touch of Charlie Chaplin-esque wit. The human story, Jonas suggests, isn’t a tragedy, but a comedy in which nature toys with us, an invisible force knocking us around, while we lock arms and try to keep our balance and act out our dance steps. The final shot of an empty beach and a triumphantly shining sun is both sublime and apocalyptic. The people are gone—​blown ​away, I can only imagine, like paper cups in a hurricane.

Installation view of Wind, 1968, by Joan Jonas, as part of If the Sky Were Orange: Art in the Time of Climate Change, September 9, 2023 – February 11, 2024. 16 mm film on HD video, Courtesy of the artist and Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York

About Joan Jonas

Pioneering video and performance artist Joan Jonas has been creating multimedia artwork for over six decades. Often integrating film, performance, drawing, and installation, Jonas explores ways of seeing, ritual and rhythm, and the authority of objects and gestures. Jonas has exhibited and performed extensively around the world, including a major retrospective at the Queens Museum of Art, titled Joan Jonas: Five Works (2004). In 2015 Jonas represented the United States in the 56th Venice Biennale. She lives and works in New York City.

About Jeff Goodell

A man wearing a blue shirt, sitting down in front of a window

Jeff Goodell is the author of seven books, including the New York Times bestseller The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet.  He is a 2020 Guggenheim Fellow. 

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