This exchange between Joan Jonas, Susan Howe, and Jeanne Heuving took place as part of a major exhibition on Joan Jonas' work at the Queens Museum of Art in New York and first appeared in the exhibition catalogue, Joan Jonas: Five Works. It was convened by Valerie Smith, Senior Curator and Director of Exhibitions at Queens Museum, for the purposes of discussing Jonas' work as well as other subjects of interest to the three women. Along with focusing on Jonas’ work as an artist and a performer, Jonas, Howe, and Heuving discuss the public position of women as artists; the place of iconic objects and words in works of art; the process of making art, including repetition, obsession and magic; the relationship between artistic form and wildness; the tensions between art, politics, and war; avant garde art scenes of the 1960’s and 1970’s; and H.D.'s work. Jonas' extensive body of work spanning over four decades encompasses performance, video/ film, installation, and drawing. Jonas and the poet Susan Howe first met as art students in the Museum School in Boston and have been close friends ever since. Howe invited the writer and scholar Jeanne Heuving to join them in this exchange, since Jonas’ most recent performance piece, Lines in the Sand, engages H.D.’s Helen in Egypt, and at the time Heuving was researching H.D. at the Beinecke Library at Yale University.
In the conversation, shared experiences and parallel tracks between Jonas and Howe emerge as both women veer at a young age from their formal training in the visual arts to develop cross genre, cross disciplinary, and cross media modes. While Jonas and Howe went on to make their marks respectively in the art and literary worlds, both engage documentary modes as well as highly fanciful and imaginative scenarios. Howe comments, “One thing we share in common is that we were born on the cusp of World War II. Childhood imagination then, even if you were an American child, encompassed such a violent world view—barked orders, bombs, swastikas, marching soldiers, newsreel shots of children being torn from their parents, such fear everywhere.” Howe was in fact responsible for suggesting two texts important for Jonas' work, the book of fairy tales The Juniper Tree and H.D.'s Helen in Egypt. In utilizing H.D.'s text Helen in Egypt in her Lines in the Sand, Jonas transforms her earlier female archetype, Organic Honey, an "electronic erotic seductress" into her own version of H.D.'s Helen, who according to an alternative ancient source taken up by H.D. in her Helen in Egypt never went to the Trojan War but resided in Egypt.
In a review of the exhibition, New York Times reviewer Roberta Smith commented “Anyone who is interested in the art of the last 30 years—or the next 30—should see the excellent, long overdue survey of Joan Jonas’ work . . . . Its revelations are almost guaranteed to knock you sockless.” She later went on to single out the retrospective as one of the most important art exhibits of the year. The exhibition just recently received First Place Award for Best Exhibition on Time Based Art from the International Association From Art Critics. Valerie Smith curated the exhibition and arranged for the 160-page exhibition catalogue.