following article, called "Multimedia Pioneer: An Interview with Yoko Ono"
by Carolyn Boriss-Krimsky, appeared in the Ruminator
Review, summer 2002 (#10). The Ruminator Review,
an independent quarterly magazine on books, arts and culture, is based in St.
Paul, Minnesota, USA.
information about the magazine, you can email them at: email@example.com
ago, John Lennon said that everyone knew Yoko Ono's name but no one knew what
she did. Now we do. In an article in The Nation (Dec.18, 2000), eminent philosopher
Arthur Danto called Ono "one of the most original artists of the last half-century."
A boundary-crossing, multimedia, avant-garde artist for the past four decades,
Ono has created films, paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations, photography,
poetry, music, and performances. Having had rigorous musical training, including
classical piano, German lieder and Italian opera, Ono broke out of tradition and
into unchartered artistic territory. Her adventurous vocals and experimental approach
to sound-mixing have contributed generously to progressive music like punk, art
rock and free jazz. Still at the cutting edge, her 1971 song, Open Your Box was
recently re-mixed, creating a sensation in today's
hip dance clubs.
Ono has also maintained a high profile in
the visual art world where she is currently being recognized as a pioneer of conceptual
art, developed in the mid-1960s. Combining Asian thought, minimalism, chance and
the investigation of everyday life, Ono's work developed as an unfinished, fluid
process to be completed by the viewer. During the early 1960s , she was involved
with the international, post-Dada group Fluxus, a loose configuration of multimedia
artists breaking boundaries in the arts and bourgeois culture. Ono was living
in lower Manhattan among artists such as John Cage, Marcel Duchamp, and Merce
Cunningham, when, along with LaMonte Young, she presented
a series of now legendary collaborative events in her downtown loft.
was there that George Maciunas met Ono and became intrigued with her ideas of
conceptual painting, audience participation and interpretive license. Maciunas
later took the helm of Fluxus as it struggled to rethink the whole idea of art.
Ono eventually distanced herself from the movement, but stayed close to some of
the artists, including Maciunas.
Among Ono's most well-known
early works are Instruction Paintings, which established the important concept
that ideas are art and art is in the mind. Meant to be performed or just imagined,
the poem-like verbal instructions encourage what Ono calls "an exploration
of the invisible." For example, Cloud Piece, 1963: "Imagine the clouds
dripping. Dig a hole in your garden to put them in ." In 1964, the instructions
were published in her book Grapefruit (since
reprinted), now revered as a pivotal work in Conceptual Art.
blazed the trail in performance art in the mid-1960s, using the medium as a vehicle
for social change. In her landmark pre-feminist work, Cut Piece, performed and
filmed at New York's Carnegie Hall, Ono sat passively on stage while, one at a
time, audience members cut off her clothes with a pair of scissors. Showing no
emotion, she was left practically naked forty minutes later.
1966-1982, Ono made experimental films, some of them
produced with John Lennon. Among her most famous are Bottoms (1966) and Fly (1970),
which explore the body, ephemerality and collective consciousness. Bottoms shows
the naked buttocks of male and female Fluxus artists and friends, as they walk.
Fly follows the movement of a common housefly as it travels across the motionless,
nude body of a woman. Ono accompanies the fly's journey with an otherworldly soundtrack
featuring primordial buzzing, whimpers and groans that could represent the fly
or the psychic pain of the woman.
created in 1967, consists of objects such as a chair, bureau, rug, table, tea
pot and hat, all cut in half, continuing Ono's investigation of metaphysical themes
such as absence, presence, spirit, mind and matter.
retrospective, Yes Yoko Ono, which opened in New York
in October, 2000 and will travel until 2003, recently won the International Association
of Art Critics/USA Award for Best Show Originating in New York City. This year
Ono was also named Woman of the Year and given a Lifetime Achievement Award by
Ms. magazine, honoring her feminism and commitment to world peace.
following conversation took place in Boston, shortly after Ono's show opened at
MIT's List Visual Art Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Piece, Carnegie Recital Hall 1965