Jonas’ work deftly subverts the unwritten rules of public vs. private and the relationship between object and audience by giving his audience the opportunity to create their own meaning.
Jonas positions himself as a reader of texts, both literal and metaphorical (e.g a diary, a plan, an old photo, a footpath, sheet music) and invites his audience to join him in the read. Each read is contingent on the audience and each audience action or reaction becomes an act of publishing.
In his recent exhibition works Jonas replaced the stone and bronze of monuments with cork and created sculptures upon which anyone could publish a message. The resulting monuments and busts need little explanation and quickly became covered with new texts and divergent reads. (This contributor left a wrapped band aide at the RISD exhibition.) The result is a new contract between object and audience.
"This contract stipulates that the works are here for them (you). You must give to receive; the work needs you: even if it is just a penny, a wish, a silent recitation, or the consent in the copying of one of your keys." - Jonas in Brooklyn Rail, March 26, 2011
In his public artwork Key to The City, 2010, a collaboration with Creative Time, Jonas reassigned the value and function of the symbolic key to the city that a mayor bestows on visiting dignitaries and important figures. For one month during the run of the project, New York City permitted Jonas to act as the key bestower. Jonas in turn re-granted the bestowing power to any of the 20,0000 participants who visited the commons in Times Square and participated in a granting ceremony where they each bestowed and received one key. The keys, designed by the artist, were more than symbolic. They opened twenty four real spaces through out New York's five boroughs – from a mom-and-pop tortilla shop to the baptismal chamber of St. John the Divine – and gave ownership of otherwise private spaces to the general public.
Residents of Cambridge, MA have quietly been bestowing the power of the key and a tiny park to each other through Jonas’ 2005 project, Taylor Square. Originally 5,000 keys were mailed to the homes nearest the park with a note asking the recipients to copy the key and share it to ensure the park (which is little more than a bench and a flag pole) remain theirs and “truly open”. It is unknown how many keys still exist today but anecdotal evidence suggests residents still respect the authority of the key and ceremonially enter through the locked gate rather than step over the low park fence.
Now and There is pleased to share Paul Ramírez Jonas’ work and spark a dialogue about public trust and contracts. Please join us this Wednesday at 6:30pm in the Tower Auditorium, 621 Huntington Avenue, Boston MA 02115. More information on the event can be found here.