A recent exhibition featured 25 years of New-York-based artist Paul Ramirez-Jonas. While considering the past scope of his work, Jonas has always been interested in storytelling. Some of his early work displays his enthusiasm for adventure, for example Magellan's Itinerary (1995) retraced the steps of Ferdinand Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe. Although he presented this information as a past history, it was also an invitation to anyone wishing to fulfill the journey. An early and tame example of Jonas inviting a viewer to interact with his work.
As Jonas's work has evolved, the level of participation and community collaboration has greatly increased. In Mi Casa, Su Casa (2005), Jonas gave a local lecture at the San Diego/Tijuana border, introducing people who lived on either side of the border. Participants were asked to have a conversation explaining who they were to one another, where they lived, and what they did all through explaining the keys on their keychain. Jonas then asked them to pick a key off their chain, duplicate it, and then offer that key to an audience member with each person repeating the process. A simple act of trust, exchange, and a symbolic tool in which to explain one's daily life and existence.
This focus on community within the public sphere has made Jonas a unique performance artist. Many of his works see a continuous public use such as The Commons (2011), in which Jonas recreated a large, riderless equestrian statue, frequently seen in public squares, but the statue is made of cork board. A medium more commonly seen in casual arenas, this horse-sized cork statue acts as a bulletin board, a place where people can communicate by sticking up fliers, posters, and messages. This use of medium versus symbolic imagery shatters the boundary between public and private, inviting the individual to partake in community.
During a time when boundaries, trust, and community are even more at odds, Jonas' work is a welcome reminder of the need to remember humanity.