Helen of Vegas

The summer movie Troy may focus on Achilles (played by Brad Pitt), but installation artist Joan Jonas is much more interested in Helen. Her Renaissance Society exhibit Lines in the Sand explores Helen as poet H.D. (Helen Doolittle, 1884–1961) portrayed her in the epic poem Helen in Egypt. Rather than the figure who incited a lust that caused the Tojan War, as H.D.’s Helen tells Achilles her version of the events, she was never even in Troy, and, she regrets to inform him, “they fought for an illusion.”

Jonas imagines a liberated Helen in modern America—specifically, as a showgirl at Las Vegas’s Luxor hotel, a suggestion “perfectly in keeping with myth’s ability to blur the boundaries between fact and fiction,” the Renaissance Society’s exhibit notes say. More poignantly, Lines in the Sand also refers to the first Gulf War and the more recent Middle East conflict. In one video Jonas describes the Trojan War as a trade war whose victors stood to control access to the Black Sea and surrounding resources.

Lines in the Sand and an accompanying exhibit, The Shape, the Scent, and the Feel of Things (a work in progress), will be at the Renaissance Society through June 13.


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May 21, 2004