The other day I caught up with Joan Jonas at her studio, around the corner from where she first performed Mirage—Anthology Film Archives’ former Soho location. Forty years ago Soho was inhospitable, even dangerous, with zero amenities. Surrounded by what were then inexpensive, down-and-dirty lofts, Anthology film and video screenings were integral to neighborhood artists’ daily lives. Jonas performed for several nights over a number of weeks in 1976. Her audience included many locals—artist, musician, and dancer friends. They all dined at Food, Gordon Matta-Clark’s wholesome restaurant. Nearby, Richard Foreman presented his Ontologic Hysteric Theater, Jack Smith carried out his midnight events, and Alanna Heiss hosted other happenings on Bleecker Street and at the Clocktower.
Leo Castelli and Ileana Sonnabend had recently launched their Soho galleries at 420 West Broadway, and Jonas later performed at each. Joyce Nereaux directed Castelli-Sonnabend Tapes and Films, and distributed Jonas’s and other visual artists’ media works to museums and art schools. These works leaned towards narrativity. Two blocks away a different media faction congregated at The Kitchen, the alternative space founded by Woody and Steina Vasulka. Artists there knew how to put technical things together.