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Joan Jonas, They Come to Us without a Word II, 2015 Photo: Moira Ricci. Image courtesy of the MIT List Visual Arts Center.
Joan Jonas, They Come to Us without a Word II, 2015 Photo: Moira Ricci. Image courtesy of the MIT List Visual Arts Center.

December 3, 2018, 6:00 pm

ACT’s Professor Emerita, Joan Jonas, and alumnus, Sung Hwan Kim, will be together in conversation with ACT Director, Judith Barry.This event will honor Jonas’ being awarded the Kyoto Prize, her contributions to ACT, and highlight the re-emergence of performance art at ACT, to be taught by Kim in Spring 2019.

Jay Scheib, Professor in Theater, Music And Theater Arts Department, MIT

Karthik Pandian, Assistant Professor of Visual and Environmental Studies, Department of Visual and Environmental Studies, Harvard

Can’t make the event? We will be livestreaming the conversation!


Joan Jonas, professor emerita in the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology, is one of three individuals honored with the 2018 Kyoto Prize.

The Kyoto Prize is Japan’s highest private award for global achievement,given by Japanese philanthropist Kazuo Inamori’s Inamori Foundation, to top representatives of their respective fields who have also contributed significantly to humanity through their work. These are regarded by many as the most prestigious award available in fields that are traditionally not honored with a Nobel PrizeAs part of the prize, Jonas will receive a diploma, a gold Kyoto Prize medal, and 100 million yen (approximately $915,000) at a ceremony in Kyoto, Japan, on November 10, followed by Commemorative Lectures on November 11.

The Kyoto Prize is awarded annually in three categories — Advanced Technology, Basic Sciences, and Arts and Philosophy — and honors individuals who have contributed significantly to the scientific, technological, and cultural betterment of humankind. Jonas is this year’s recipient in the Arts and Philosophy category for her lifetime of accomplishment and global influence as an artist.

“Jonas created a new artistic form by integrating performance art and video art, and has evolved her original medium at the forefront of contemporary art continuously,” the prize announcement states. “Creating labyrinth-like works that lead audiences to diverse interpretations, she hands down the legacy of 1960s avant-garde art by developing it into a postmodern framework, profoundly impacting artists of later generations.”

Kim will be discussing his new project, Research foundations.

I have commenced research for this new project, starting this past summer. I am focusing on the first immigrants to the United States from Korea, 1884–1910. The majority of these immigrants, beginning in 1903, coming to the United States via Hawai’i, were plantation farmers who came as strikebreakers used against Japanese workers in the region.  They eventually moved to the mainland, centering around Reedley, Riverside, and Dinuba in California; and Butte in Montana. Many of these Korean immigrants and their offspring remained undocumented until the signing into law of the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act. An even earlier minority Korean immigrant group, a set containing the first to naturalize as a United States citizen, starting around 1884, comprised government officials and their offspring, coming as students of Christianity. They attended schools on the East Coast, like Governor Dummer Academy, Vanderbilt University, and Emory College, as well as Claremont College in California. Systemic racism embedded in the Reconstruction Era was ever-present, and the postbellum discourse on race was at its height around these newcomers; and yet, this discourse was not synthesized and folded into the immigrant community’s knowledge or collective experience. One of the explanations is that the minority who came to study at universities were preoccupied with ideas of modernity introduced by Christianity, as well as questions of how they could help the situation back home in a country transitioning from Confucianist monarchy to republic. The discussion of racial injustice against black citizens by white Christians was not instrumental to the Koreans’ cause. Furthermore, those working in the fields were breaking their backs as cheap replacement labor, and, unlike the black Americans who became citizens after the Civil War, were not recognized as citizens before the 1950’s. Most Koreans and their offspring were not documented, thus being deprived of any kind of suffrage or property rights. One might presume that in that time, the Koreans’ perspective on racial discourse had no valid standing in United States society. These considerations may illuminate thoughts on racial tensions between the Korean- and African-American communities. Few know that out of one billion dollars’ worth of property damage sustained in the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, Korean-owned property damage was estimated at 400 million dollars, most of which was never recompensed in any form.



Joan Jonas is a pioneer of video and performance art, and an acclaimed multimedia artist whose work typically encompasses video, performance, installation, sound, text, and drawing. Trained in art history and sculpture, Jonas was a central figure in the performance art movement of the late 1960s, and her experiments and productions in the late 1960s and early 1970s continue to be crucial to the development of many contemporary art genres, from performance and video to conceptual art and theater. Since 1968, her practice has explored ways of seeing, the rhythms of ritual, and the authority of objects and gestures.

Joan Jonas is a New York native and she continues to live and work in New York City. She received a B.A. in Art History from Mount Holyoke College in 1958, studied sculpture at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and received an M.F.A. in Sculpture from Columbia University in 1965. Jonas has taught at MIT since 1998, and is currently Professor Emerita in the MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology within the School of Architecture and Planning.


ACT alumnus and lecturer, Sung Hwan Kim has most recently exhibited his work at daad galerie, Berlin (2018), the 57th Venice Biennale Arte (2017), National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon, Korea (2017) and Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival, Berwick, UK (2017). 

Solo exhibitions include Sung Hwan Kim, CCA Kitakyushu (2016); Life of Always a Mirror, Artsonje Center, Seoul (2014); Sung Hwan Kim, The Tanks at Tate Modern, London (2012); Line Wall, Kunsthalle Basel (2011) and Sung Hwan Kim, From the Commanding Heights…, Queens Museum, New York (2011).

His works were shown in international biennales and film festivals, such as the Gwangju Biennale, Performa, Manifesta, Berlin Biennale, Rotterdam International Film Festival, and Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin. He was a fellow at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten (2004/2005) and a recipient of Berliner Künstlerprogramm des DAAD (2015). 



Thank you to MIT Alumni Association for sponsoring the livestreaming of this event.