Yoko Ono

odyssey of a cockroach


Page two of the review by luke kurtis

Positioned near the first "map table" in the gallery is a gigantic shoe and watch (and here again are connections to previous works, i.e., Exhibit M: high heel shoes (1993) from Family Album, A Painting to Be Stepped On (1961), and the Swatch watch designed by Ono in 1996). The sculptures are directly related to the gigantic photgraph that covers, floor to ceiling, the nearby wall. The photograph depicts a female and a male figure standing on a New York sidewalk. Taken from a very low angel, this is the point-of-view of a cockroach. The same technique is used with one of the other oversize photographs. In this second instance, the photograph is of a disturbed dinner table-the chair has been overturned, the dishes crashing to the floor. Once again, the two-dimensional photograph bleeds-quite literally (note the use of blood as a recurring motif throughout Ono's work as well)-and tumbles into the gallery space. A large chair, matching the chairs in the photograph, rests on its side in the gallery. And a plate has violently landed on the floor as well. The colossal scale of the shoe, watch, chair, and plate sculptures, while on par with the scale of the photographs, serve to help characterize the cockroach point-of-view which we have been invited to explore. The oversize photographs in and of themselves, while certainly visually aggressive, hardly provide enough context-especially to New Yorker's whose experience of gigantic billboards is part and parcel of everyday life. But the gigantic, three-dimensional extensions of the photographs provided through the sculptures: one doesn't see that every day. The sculptures, due to their exaggeration of proportion (to humans, at least-not to cockroaches), are jarring and help remind the viewer how to look at the overall installation.

Opposite the wall with the large sculptures is an area covered with plaster molds of human bodies. The molds are haphazardly scattered, this time similar to the later version of the earlier mentioned Cleaning Piece, Cleaning Piece (Riverbed), 2000. The mode of expression is obviously very different than Riverbed, yet the technique appeals to a similar aesthetic. But where Riverbed evokes peace and serenity, these bodies evoke violence and decay. They are torn and scattered, full of anguish. They even pour out of a gigantic garbage can (again, urging us toward the cockroach perspective). This element of the show represents one of the relatively rare instances in which Ono actually uses the human form in her sculpture. And, as such, this aspect of Odyssey Of A Cockroach is somewhat reminiscent of the figure(s) featured in Ono's Endangered Species 2319-2322 (1992) and Two Rooms (1993) installations.

One of the most unique elements of Odyssey Of A Cockroach is in the basement level of the gallery. You descend the stairs into a gray area. Even this flat middle-gray is somewhat startling when considering Ono's oeuvre, which the majority of gains its distinction from a squeaky-clean whiteness. Leading out from this space is a dark corridor. Like a cockroach, the visitor must enter the space cautiously, for it is almost pitch black. However, a small, indistinct light at the end of the corridor guides you. Once you reach that light source, you learn it is illuminating a small photographic work, titled, rainbow postcard by yoko ono 2003. This photograph, taken out of context of its intended environment, is perhaps Ono's most colorful and most traditional appearing work ever. It is, quite simply, a landscape, graced by the presence of two parallel rainbows. The colors are extremely vivid. And the whole experience of the photograph, dark hall, light at the end of the tunnel and all, is quite exquisite.

The last major element of the exhibition is an area scattered-once again, connecting to some of the aforementioned earlier works-with heavily soiled clothes. These clothes more or less form a line along one wall and run parallel to the line of plaster bodies flowing out of the trashcan. It leads one to think that perhaps these are the clothes of those bodies. On the walls above this area are more of the larger-than-life photographs-this time of a bloody, violent scene in which a woman has been attacked. Extending from this photograph, much like the shoe and chair extends from the others, is a long, gigantic piece of wood with equally gigantic nails protruding. It can be seen as the weapon of the attack. It is no coincidence that the most concrete act of violence represented in Odyssey Of A Cockroach is committed against a woman. Violence against women has long concerned Ono and her artwork. After all, John Lennon's "Woman Is The Nigger of the World"-often considered the first feminist pop/rock song-was inspired by and based on an idea of Ono's. This streak of feminism isn't necessarily the purpose of most of Yoko's work, but merely one element-just as within this installation. Odyssey Of A Cockroach can certainly not be branded as a show heralding the feminism of the new millennium. But it does profess a certain humanism-and, perhaps, a burgeoning insectism.

Mixed with the loads of dirty clothing are numerous, everyday mousetraps. At first, they seem almost out of place. They are plain and ordinary and seem to have no relation to everything else at hand. Which brings us to another cage, like the cage previously described, but situated in the rear of the main gallery space. It is similar to the first cage, but contains a haphazard pile of shoes instead of books (tying it directly to the gigantic shoe). This cage, too, is adorned with posters on both the inside and outside. I shied away from the meaning of these cages before, and this is exactly why: One must experience Odyssey Of A Cockroach as the unified work it is. Suddenly it dawns on me-this isn't just any cage! This is a rattrap, a supposedly "humane" rattrap. The enormous cages contrast with the mousetraps-which are tiny by comparison, and take more involved observation to be noticed. Subtlety-those conceptual "middle grays"-is one of the areas where Ono has always been at her best; this show is no exception. From cockroach to rat, Odyssey Of A Cockroach explores New York City-explores the world-through the eyes of the underdogs, the reviled pests we view as incessant annoyances. But, from their perspective, it seems there is much to learn. Indeed, the cockroach may teach us how to thrive, how to survive even in our own world: this is the odyssey.

thrive and survive by luke kurtis

Author's Note

After revisiting Odyssey Of A Cockroach, I noticed a flaw in my previous analysis. Where I mentioned the victim of violence as being a woman, I realized the figure in Ono's photographs isn't quite so clearly defined. The body of the person appears very curvaceous, very feminine. However, the face appears to bear a slight moustache. Therefore, the gender of the person becomes unclear, even androgynous. I believe this makes Ono's point more universal. However, my observation about feminism as it relates to Ono's overall body of work is still relevant.

In addition, upon my second visit to the installation, an audio component had been added to the exhibit. Throughout the gallery this music can be heard. I inquired with the gallery attendant, who told me that he believes it is a combination of appropriated material (which he thinks might have been used for Ono's Freight Train at P.S.1 in Queens, NYC) as well as new material. In addition, there is a second aural accompaniment to the rainbow postcard, this time of outdoor noise, such as birds chirping (not dissimilar to the audio track of Ex It in NYC in 1998).

This article was written by, and photographs taken by luke kurtis. luke kurtis is a poet/composer/artist living in New York City. Ono's work has remained a constant source of inspiration and healing for luke for many years now.

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