Mary Jordan is an award-winning, boundary-breaking filmmaker, whose work has been internationally exhibited, critically praised, and studied at film schools around the world. In 2005, Filmmaker Magazine named her one of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film. She has since exhibited her work at festivals in London, Rotterdam, Los Angeles, Seattle, Copenhagen, Sydney, Moscow, and elsewhere. Her films have also been released theatrically and have appeared on television.
Jordan’s filmmaking journey began at the age of eighteen when a trip through North Africa resulted in her first documentary film, a work about female circumcision. This inaugurated a period of films focusing on human rights — including work on child labor and prostitution in Southeast Asia, refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border, Asian rebel leaders, and films from Tonga and Samoa.
In 2007, Jordan’s first feature documentary, Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis, was named one of the top ten A-list movies of the year by Entertainment Weekly. Produced by the American artist Richard Prince, the film, which examined the life and legacy of the influential experimental filmmaker Jack Smith, garnered awards at Tribeca, Torino, and Leipsig, and was exhibited at the Venice Biennale, the House of World Cultures museum in Berlin, Brisbane Powerhouse, Issue Project, and Nuit Blanche in Paris.
Her upcoming feature documentary, Angels of Light, profiles the seminal San Francisco theater troupe of the 1970s and, in keeping with the troupe’s radical vision, will be offered for free. An excerpt of the film was featured in the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver’s 2011 exhibition, West of Center: Art and the Counterculture Experiment in America, 1965-1977, which subsequently toured the United States.
Future film projects include The Czar’s Madman: The Story of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Lost Script, which will explore the historic intersection of famed Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky and great Estonian novelist Jaan Kross.
In addition to her work as a director, Jordan has contributed to numerous projects in the role of producer, overseeing the development of commercials, music videos, and documentaries, including, most recently, Christopher Edward’s examination of genetically modified foods, Big Pharm Country, and Jacques Menasche’s The Road to Gotera, about the shooting of a news photographer in El Salvador.
Since the 1990s Mary Jordan has established a reputation as an innovative and vibrant artist across several mediums, including painting, choreography, acting, and performance, and her work has appeared in galleries and museums around the world.
From 1994 to 1999, Jordan directed The Burmese Tea Ceremony, an annual performance art ritual held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sydney, Australia, and Tokyo, an event named one of the 100 great design experiences in Nathan Shedroff’s book, Experience Design. In 1999, Jordan established Parthengensis (virgin birth), an all-girl performance troupe, whose provocative political, avant-garde productions, performed mainly at New York’s famed underground venue, The Box, wowed a select audience of art collectors and celebrities, including Lindsay Lohan, Kate Hudson, Sienna Miller, Samuel L. Jackson, Laurence Fishburne, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
In 1999, Jordan also directed and performed in Performa, the performance art biennial in New York City, which took place in a six-storey abandoned building and featured multi-media works, slide shows, film, live music, and performances by artistic innovators including Owen Plotkin, Mike Kelley, and Tony Conrad.In 2011, Jordan established the Kau Academy in Tallinn, Estonia, with the mission of supporting established and emerging artists working in a variety of media. That same year, she directed and orchestrated a performance there with dancers from the Ballet Preljocaj, the Vox choir, and composer Tõnu Kaljuste.
Since establishing a part-time residence in Estonia in 2006, Jordan has flourished into a sought-after interior designer, with her creations featured in publications around the world, including Wallpaper magazine, and Quintessentially, a lifestyle book with editions published annually.
Singular among her successes as a designer is the renovation of the Kau Manor, the nearly 800-year-old house she acquired in 2007. Meticulously transformed by Jordan’s fantastical vision into a boutique hotel, museum, nature preserve, and cultural arts center, the Kau Manor boasts a unique collection of art and objects, the greatest of which is the Manor itself, in which each room is a distinct and original creation.
In 2011, Jordan established the Kau Academy at the Manor, which hosts an Artist Residency program and a summer music festival. Imbued with a new creative spirit, the Kau Manor, thirty minutes from the Estonian capital of Tallinn, has since become a worldwide destination for artists, collectors, composers, and trailblazers of all kinds, including the famed composer Arvo Part and the President of Estonia, a frequent visitor.
Plans are now underway on the 500-acre property to develop the Kau Art Center, which aims to become one of the leading sculpture parks in Europe, displaying the work of world-renowned artists.
A successful artist, designer, and filmmaker, Mary Jordan is first and foremost an activist. A tireless champion of human rights, for the last two decades she has worked with a host of non-governmental organizations on the ground in Burma, Africa, Indonesia, and India, as well as in the US and Europe, to help better the lives of people around the world.
Jordan began her human rights work through her camera, making, at the age of eighteen, her first documentary film — a work about female circumcision — after a trip through North Africa. She then began a series of films focusing on human rights films, intrepid productions that tackled pressing subjects such as child labor and prostitution in Southeast Asia, refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border, and the children of war-torn Bosnia.
Along the way she has partnered with a host of relief organizations, including Doctors Without Borders, the Millennium Foundation, the International Center for Human Rights and Tolerance Education, and the Children’s Movement Organization, among others.
In 2009, while suffering from a water-borne illness in Ethiopia, Jordan was inspired by the local women that nursed her back to health to create The Water Tank Project, an enormous public art project drawing attention to the global water crisis. To this end, in 2010 she founded and became the Creative Director of Word Above the Street, New York City-based non-profit arts organization dedicated to combining art and cultural programming with social advocacy.
The Water Tank Project (www.thewatertankproject.org) utilizes New York City’s iconic water tanks for a citywide exhibition of original large-scale artwork. In 2011 the Ford Foundation awarded Word Above the Street a development grant, and in May 2011 Jordan spoke about The Water Tank Project at the Festival of Ideas. In November 2013, under Jordan’s direction, the project established exclusive media sponsorship with the Hearst Corporation.
The idea of an outdoor art exhibition on the New York City skyline dedicated to the global water crisis has generated tremendous enthusiasm. Artists such as Ed Ruscha, Maya Lin, Jeff Koons, Andy Goldsworthy, Carrie Mae Weems, Julie Mehretu and Lawrence Weiner have pledged participation; financing has been received from the Booth Ferris Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation New York City Cultural Innovation Fund and the Agnes Gund AG Foundation; and Word Above the Street has formed partnerships with STUDIO IN A SCHOOL, and the Columbia Water Center/Earth Institute. The Water Tank Project’s curatorial committee features leading figures in the art world, including Bettina Bryant, Toby Devan Lewis and Neville Wakefield.
Because the Water Tank Project believes that the seeds of meaningful change take root when nourished by education, in September and October 2012, Mary Jordan curated a David Zwirner Gallery show, WATER! The Water Tank Project Student Art Exhibition, with co-curators Neville Wakefield and Bettina Bryant. Presented by Word Above the Street in collaboration with STUDIO IN A SCHOOL, the exhibition showcased a selection of works by New York City public high school students who participated in the Spring 2012 Art Competition for The Water Tank Project. Word Above the Street has also collaborated with Children’s Movement for Creative Education (CMCE) on Trace the Tap, a water-focused curriculum that encourages students to explore the importance of clean water from biological, environmental, cultural and economic perspectives. This twelve-week supplemental program, supported by both the Department of Education and the Department of Environmental Protection, will be offered at select New York City schools and online beginning in 2014.