Jesse Jones’ new film, performance and sculptural installation, The Tower, is the second part in a trilogy beginning with Tremble Tremble (commissioned for the Irish Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017). The Tower finds its beginning point not in the witch but the heretic; it conjures the words of women burned as heretics before the first witch trials in the sixteenth century. Jones' work delves into the lost knowledge of women’s ecstatic visions through the writing and song of medieval female Christian mystics, and evokes the strange, isolated imaginaries of anchorites and hermits along with troubling histories of religious and state incarceration of women.
Collaborating with performers Olwen Fouéré and Naomi Moonveld-Nkosi, choreographers Junk Ensemble and a girls’ choir, Jones transports us into the tower. A giant pillar reflects the life of devoted ascetic Simeon the Stylite, who waited on top of a pillar for six years to prove his devotion to God. Jones’ pillar – the tower - proclaims the possibility of a world without shame and aims to reclaim the radical and mystical potential apparent in many women writers of the fourteenth century, crushed by the witch trials, the rise of capitalism and the weaponization of shame.
At Talbot Rice Gallery, working once again with Director Tessa Giblin who commissioned Tremble Tremble, Jones will transform its white gallery into a cavernous, dark environment, combining film, performance, sculptures and scenography to achieve an expanded idea of cinema and immersive theatre. Incarcerated behind a black wall, pierced by a hagioscope, or ‘leper’s squint’, is the penitent: hard at work, producing her devotional Milagros (symbolic objects that represent miracles) at her burned and adorned operating table.
She summons stories and visions of women who are cast as both saints and witches, and whose imagination held the power to ‘world new worlds’ before it was crushed by the heresy trials that swept Europe in the twelfth century. Through the figure of Mary Magdalene, the music of eleventh-century abbess and polymath composer Hildegarde af Bingen and the inspired writings of medieval mystic Marguerite Porete, Jones unleashes the experience and injury of women’s incarceration. “In Europe, they say, ‘We are the great-great granddaughters of the women you tried to kill in the witch trials,’ and in Ireland, we say, ‘We are the daughters and granddaughters of the women you tried to incarcerate and suppress’”, Jesse Jones says in reference to the appalling reality of Magdalene Laundries and Asylums across Ireland and the UK.
To celebrate the remarkable achievements of an artist uniting Ireland’s formidable strength in the visual arts, theatre and dance, Talbot Rice Gallery and Edinburgh University Press are delighted to announce the publication of a book that charts the research and cultural analysis of the artworks – Tremble Tremble and The Tower and the climates they were born from.
The Tower was commissioned by Rua Red in Dublin as part of The Magdalene Series curated by Maolíosa Boyle, funded by The Arts Council of Ireland, Creative Ireland, South Dublin County Arts Office, and Rua Red. It has been further developed at Talbot Rice Gallery with the support of Creative Scotland, Edinburgh College of Art, Culture Ireland and Ron Christaldi.
The Tower features a cast that includes actors Olwen Fouéré and Naomi Moonveld-Nkosi, a girl’s choir led by choir master, Germaine Carlos and arranged and conducted by Blánaid Murphy. Performers include: Emily Kilkenny Roddy, Ava Richards, Síofra Kildee-Doolan, Rosie Phipps O’Neill, Amy Sheil, Aedín Ferguson, Saoirse McSharry, and Blathnaid Doyle Fox. Choreography by Junk Ensemble, composition by Irene Buckley and costumes by Roisin Gartland. Junk Ensemble worked collaboratively with Jesse Jones on the choreography and movement of the performers bringing to life Jones’ vision for the work, while the 11th – 14th century text adaptations were made by Fouéré, Jones and Moonveld-Nkosi.
Jesse Jones is an artist based in Ireland. Her practice is multi-platform, working in film installation, performance and sculpture. Using a form of expanded cinema she explores magical counter-narratives to the state, drawn from suppressed archetypes and myth. She represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale 2017 with the work Tremble Tremble, which also toured to SAMSTAG Museum of Art and the Adelaide Art Festival (2021), Museo Guggenheim Bilbao (2019-2020), and venues in Dublin, Edinburgh and Singapore. Previous solo shows include: Rua Red, Tallaght (2022), Kunsthal Gent (2020-2025), Artsonje Centre, Seoul (2013), Spike Island, Bristol (2012) and REDCAT, Los Angeles (2011). Jones has a forthcoming solo exhibition at IKON Gallery, Birmingham in 2024. Her work is in collections of the Irish Museum of Modern Art,Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane and University of Edinburgh. She is the 250th member of Aosdána, founded in 1981 to honour artists whose work has made an outstanding contribution to the creative arts in Ireland. She lectures in Fine Art at Technological University Dublin.