They Come to Us Without a Word: Art Installation by Joan Jonas

Scene from one of the videos. They Come to Us Without a Word: Installation by Joan Jonas at the Venice Biennale 2015

They Come to Us Without a Word was the art installation by American artist Joan Jonas that occupied all five galleries of the American Pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale.

You can view the whole installation in this video:

The main part of the exhibit consisted of four rooms. In each room, there were two large screens displaying video projections. The videos were dreamy, multi-layered shots of children and young teens who performed wordless role plays set against video of landscapes and other scenes shot by the artist. In each room, one video would be related to the main theme of the room—for example, one room had a bee motif, with inkblot drawings of bees on the wall, while another room had a fish motif—while the other video would be an ongoing narrative that continued from room to room.

Video scene (in the fish-themed room)
Drawings in the fish-themed room

The rooms also contained drawings by the artist, props from the videos and free-standing mirrors. An audio soundtrack was also playing—this featured spoken narration as well as a soundtrack featuring ambient music by Jason Moran and songs by Ánde Somby. But what did it all mean? In the official press release, Jonas states:

Although the idea of my work involves the question of how the world is so rapidly and radically changing, I do not address the subject directly or didactically,” said Jonas. “Rather, the ideas are implied poetically through sound, lighting and the juxtaposition of images of children, animals and landscape.

Press Release: Pavilion of the United States

The summary by NTU Centre for Contemporary Art, where the installation was also exhibited is more explicit:

With this exhibition Jonas evokes the fragility of nature, using her own poetic language to address the irreversible impact of human interference on the environmental equilibrium of our planet

Joan Jonas: They Come to Us without a Word

My own response to the work, however, was a strong feeling of nostalgia. The videos reminded me of childhood summers. The forest landscapes were reminiscent of summers spent visiting relatives or going to cottages and summer camps. The role-play scenes brought to mind vague memories of elaborate role plays with the daughters of my grandparent’s neighbours. The ‘fish’ room brought to mind summer days at the cottage of my step-grandfather, an avid fisherman. For me, walking through the exhibit was like navigating through the gauzy haze of childhood memories.

Drawings in the bee-themed room
Video scene
Video scene: They Come to Us Without a Word
Video scene

This was my sister’s favorite pavilion at the Giardini della Biennale. I liked it as well, though my favorite was Chiharu Shiota’s installation in the Japanese Pavilion: The Key in the Hand.

Joan Jonas: Artist mini-bio

Joan Jonas has had a long and influential career in work with video and performance art. She was born in New York 1936. After studying at Mount Holyoke College, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and Columbia University, she also studied and worked with choreographers in New York. At first, she focused on sculpture, but by the late 1960s, she started focusing more on performance art. After buying a video camera and visiting Japan in 1970, video became a key ingredient of many of her works. She is considered one of the most influential artists of her generation. 1998, she has been a professor of visual arts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Go Further

This section includes discussion questions, an art challenge and links to online photo galleries and websites.

Online Galleries

Higher resolution images (e.g. 2048 x 1365) can be viewed online at:

Read More

Official Biennale Page:

Three Questions

  1. What you think about the ideas in this installation?
  2. In what ways has the world changed since you were a child?
  3. Are there any things that you used to do as a child that children nowadays no longer seem to be doing?

Art Challenge

Create a visual collage and/or short audio soundtrack (e.g., spoken word, sound effects and/or music, etc) that represents part of your childhood.

~ text and photos by


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Art of the Umbrella Movement: Part 1. Paintings and Sketches

During the autumn of 2014, 79-day protest was held in Hong Kong. The protesters, calling for greater democracy, occupied streets in three districts: Mongkok, Causeway Bay and Admiralty. For more background on the protests itself, you can read my article: Photo Essay: The People of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement.

During the Umbrella Movement ( protests, many artists, designers and photographers got involved, with new artwork frequently appearing at the protests sites. This article showcases some of the paintings and sketches that were created and displayed. Future articles will focus on posters, banners, installation art and sculpture.


Artist Flyingpig sketching at the Admiralty protest site

Flyingpig is a young Hong Kong artist who specializes in watercolor paintings of daily life in local neighborhoods. For each painting, she tends to choose one dominant color to set the mood for the painting. During the Umbrella movement protests, she was mainly concerned with documenting the normal routines at the protest site.

Painting by Flying Pig

During the protests, participants spent the vast majority of time just trying to go about life as normal—eating, sleeping, getting supplies, talking do friends and doing school assignments. This sense of normalcy is reflected in Flyingpig’s paintings; barricades blend innocently into the urban landscape, protest tents looks like market stalls and people are just going about their usual business.

Painting by Flying Pig

She would sketch on site in a sketch book and after the paintings were completed, they were blown up, printed out and displayed at the Admiralty site.

Flying Pig (Umbrella Movement Art)

She is still very involved with social issues; for example, I saw her at an event held to preserve the Yen Cho Street Hawker Bazaar.

Artist’s Facebook Page:

Frances Lee (pseudonym)

Frances Lee (pseudonym) is a Hong Kong-based artist. When painting the Hong Kong skyline, he tends to use warm, earthy and vibrant colors that reflect both his Mediterranean upbringing and his appreciation for the vibrancy of Hong Kong. From a distance, Hong Kong is all silvery steel, grey concrete and deep green vegetation, but these cool colors don’t really do justice to the territory’s energy and liveliness.

He painted at different protest sites, inviting passers-by to add their own messages and pictures to the buildings. The first picture in this section shows some of the completed paintings that he put on display at the Admiralty site.

A passerby adding her touches to a painting (Umbrella Movement Art)
(Umbrella Movement Art)

Miso Zo

Painting by Miso Zo (detail view)

Miso Zo’s vibrant paintings capture the contrasting moods of Umbrella Movement protests. In one striking painting, policemen, their faces distorted with rage, blast a lone protester with pepper spray. The man stands still and resolute, with hands clenched at his side.

Artist Miso Zo working on a painting of a man getting a haircut

When I came across Misa Zo at the Admiralty protest site, he was working in acrylic and oil paint on a large canvas, the painting depicting a scene capturing the more peaceful side of the movement. In that painting, set in a quiet area a few blocks away from the main protest site at Admiralty, a man is getting a haircut in the middle of the road. As the protests dragged on, support facilities run by volunteers started appearing to cater to their needs—first aid stations, supply stations, a library an outdoor study hall, battery recharging stations, recycling centers and, in this case, a barbershop.

Artist Miso Zo standing beside a one of his paintings. The painting is of one the barricades that had been set up by protesters.
Artist Miso Zo

Miso Zo is pseudonym. He is a New York-based artist who was in Beijing during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. He also did some installation pieces during the Umbrella Movement protests.

Perry Dino

Perry Dino painting at the Mongkok protest site

Perry Dino is a an artist and a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I came across him at the Admiralty site, where he was on an overpass beside the BBC news crew. ( His goal was to document the protest movement in a more expressive way. As he said in an interview with the South China Morning Post:

I wanted to capture the moment by sitting down and painting what I saw. This issue was so important to the people of Hong Kong and I wanted to record it for posterity.

Perry Dino captures Hong Kong protests in oil on canvas
Perry Dino painting at the Admiralty site

Artist Perry Dino at the Mongkok protest site
Artist Perry Dino being interviewed on Nathan Road


Artist: Vin (Click on the image for a higher resolution version)

Vin is a Hong Kong designer. His ink on cardboard works were more overly political than many of the other artists. In one drawing, a lone figure clad in a rain coat, goggles and surgical masks and holding an umbrella asks “Who dressed me like this?” At the beginning of the protests, police used tear gas and pepper spray on the peacefully assembled protesters, who used the umbrellas that they had brought to provide protection from the sun to protect themselves from the tear gas cannisters and the spray. The umbrella soon became a symbol of the protest. After that day, whenever police gathered in force in riot gear, the front line of protesters opposing them, would wear whatever protection they could scrounge up.

Another of his drawings deals with the suspected collusion between the police and organized crime members.

chanqueen, Kay Cheung & Bear Pang

Sketches by Bear Pang, Kay Cheung and chanqueen

Like Flyingpig, chanqueen, Kay Cheung & Bear Pang are sketch artists who worked worked with ink and watercolor to document the protests. Their works were blown up and displayed at the Admiralty site. To save space, I have included two pictures from each artist, but you can see more of their sketches at my Flickr album (the link is at the end of the article).

Sketch by chanqueen of an art installation set up by students and staff from the School of Creative Media at City University of Hong Kong
Sketch by chanqueen of the Admiralty protest site
Yee Wo Street, Causeway Bay: Sketch by Kay Cheung
Umbrella Square (at the Admiralty protest site): Sketch by Kay Cheung
Sketch by Bear Pang
Sketch by Bear Pang

Umbrella Movement Art by Other Artists

Here are some of the other art pieces I noticed at the Admiralty site. These five paintings were labelled #PaintForChange, but I don’t know anything about the artist(s). If you happen to know anything, please leave a comment below.

Oil Paintings (by #PaintforChange)

The painting by Jenn Chan below is a reference to a meme involving Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s surname, which sounds like the Cantonese word for ‘wolf’.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying as a Wolf (painting by Jenn Chan)

I spoke briefly with the artist who painted the next picture. It is an optimistic piece describing a dream in which birds return to a forest and fill the air with their songs.

Umbrella Movement Art (at the Admiralty site)
Birds Returning
Birds Returning

Here are two more works:

Wolf Attack: Art of the Umbrella Movement
Police vs Protestors: Art of the Umbrella Movement
Police vs Protestors: Art of the Umbrella Movement

Notes: The Umbrella Movement in a Nutshell

The umbrella movement refers to the pro-democracy protests that took place in Hong Kong from 26 September to 15 December 2014. Protesters, who occupied streets in three districts, were seeking greater democracy and sought to have territory’s Chief Executive elected via universal suffrage. For more information, you can check out my blog post on the Umbrella Movement: Photo Essay: Hong Kong Protests

Online Galleries

Higher resolution images (e.g. 2048 x 1365) can be viewed online at:

~ text and photos by longzijun


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Kyoto: Light Festival at Tadasu no Mori and Shimogamo-jinja

Resonating Spheres at Shimogamo-jinja (photo by longzijun)
Resonating Spheres at Shimogamo-jinja

While visiting Kyoto during the summer, I went to see the magically whimsical light installation put together by teamLab at Tadasu no Mori and Shimogamo Shrine that took place during the last two weeks of August.

teamLab: Resonating Trees

Resonating Trees in Tadasu no Mori (photo by longzijun)
Resonating Trees in Tadasu no Mori

In Tadasu No Mori (Forest of Correction), the trees along the forest path leading to Shimogamo Shrine were lit up in an installation called Resonating Trees. Each tree was lit independently and had a hidden speaker nearby that emitted musical tones that corresponded to the changing colors. The colors (and their corresponding musical tones) changed according to the presence and movement of people. The color of light shining on an individual tree could also radiate out to affect other trees, which would begin to resonate with the same color and musical tone. You can see his effect in the video by teamLab:

When I was there, however, the effect was very different. As there were a lot of people there at the event’s opening, the lights and tones were changing rapidly, as in the following video:

Trees Illuminated in Tadasu no Mori (The Forest of Correction), Kyoto
Trees Illuminated in Tadasu no Mori (The Forest of Correction), Kyoto
Resonating Tress by teamlab  (photo by longzijun)
Resonating Trees by teamlab
Resonating Trees opening night (photo by longzijun)
An illuminated forest

teamlab: Resonating Spheres

Resonating Spheres by teamLab (photo by longzijun)
Resonating Spheres by teamLab

The courtyard at Shimogamo Shrine (下鴨神社) was filled with large glowing floating spheres. These spheres would change color (and musical tone) when touched by people. As in the forest installation, the colors of an individual sphere could radiate out and cause other spheres nearby to resonate with the same color and give off the same musical tone. If thre was a sphere left unattended, it was almost impossible to resist the urge to reach out and touch it.

Boy and Sphere (photo by longzijun)
Boy and Sphere
Blue spheres in resonance with one another  (photo by longzijun)
Blue spheres in resonance with one another
Resonating Spheres by teamLab (photo by longzijun)
Young woman with a lilac sphere
Resonating Spheres by teamLab (photo by longzijun)
Young woman with a green sphere
Resonating Spheres by teamLab) (photo by longzijun)
Resonating Spheres by teamLab
Girls with a blue sphere:   (photo by longzijun)
Children with a blue sphere
Resonating Spheres by teamLab (photo by longzijun)
People play with the spheres
Resonating Spheres by teamLab  (photo by longzijun)
Near closing time

The Installation’s Aim

According to teamLab, the aim of the installation was to change relationships among people by making the presence of other people a positive experience. As people walk through the forest path and into the courtyard of the shrine, their presence and movement cause the colors and musical tones around them to change. Thus, a stranger walking by is no longer someone to ignore or be annoyed with; he/she becomes a co-conspirator in a shared artistic experience.

The positive nature of human contact is also presented through the idea of resonance. Like the manner in which the light color and musical tone emanating from a tree or sphere can influence the lights and sounds around them, our own moods can influence (and be influenced by) those around us and radiate outwards, ‘infecting’ more and more people.

Setting the light installation in a sacred forest and an important Shinto shrine also draws the visitors’ attention to their relationship with nature, tradition and spirituality.


The light festival at Shimogamo-jinja and Tadasu no Mori (糺の森) opened during Obon, the annual festival in which Japanese honor the spirits of their ancestors. Activities related to this festival often revolve around lanterns, which are floated down rivers or across ponds or are attached to graves. These lanterns are intended to guide the spirits back to their homes. Could the glowing spheres of this installation also serve as a more modern representation of the traditional Obon lanterns?


According to teamLab’s website,

teamLab is a collective, interdisciplinary creative group that brings together professionals from various fields of practice in the digital society: artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians, architects, web and print graphic designers and editors. Referring to themselves as “Ultra-technologists,” their aim is to achieve a balance between art, science, technology and creativity.


Comprised of Shimogamo Shrine ( and the surrounding sacred grove of Tadasu No Mori, Kamo-jinja is a Shinto sanctuary complex that is said to protect Kyoto from malign influences. It is situated in northeast Kyoto within the delta of two rivers: Takano-gawa and Kamo-gawa.

Towards the end of the evening, the moon came out to play (photo by longzijun))
Towards the end of the evening, the moon came out to play
The Tori at Shimogamo-jinja
The Tori at Shimogamo-jinja

Go Further

This section includes discussion questions, an art challenge and links to online photo galleries and websites.

More about the Installation

Official Website:

Another Article about teamLab

Go to the article about teamLab's amazing exhibition of interactive installations.

teamlab Planets (Tokyo): An Amazing Interactive Art Experience
The teamLab collective has really taken off in recent years. In Tokyo, they now have a permanent exhibition space in Tokyo as well as a year-long exhibition (Planets). I visited the Planets exhibition and wrote about it here:


Higher resolution images (e.g. 2048 x 1365) can be viewed online at:

Three Questions

  1. What do you think about this installation?
  2. What was the effect of having a temple and sacred grove as the setting for their installation?
  3. What was the effect of using spheres? Why do you think spheres (and not other shapes) were used?

Art Challenge

It would be quite a challenge to try to mimic this installation, but have you tried light painting? The challenge this time is to create a light painting photo. You can find out more about light painting here:

~ text and photos by longzijun


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