Carolyn Boriss-Krimsky: Your 40-year retrospective is
giving audiences a chance to reconnect with you and rediscover your art. New generations
are exploring your work now, too. What do you hope that people get out of it?
Ono: I hope they would get some inspiration, some encouragement from it. What
they are doing , probably they are doing with a lonely feeling. Maybe they are
thinking, "I'm the only one in the world who is doing this." But now
you know you're not alone. There are a lot of us.
How did you become adept at working in such a broad range of media? I wondered
if the idea came first and then the media or if one thing builds on another, like
the way Fly started as a performance and then became a film, soundtrack, event
and CD. You seem to think of a lot of things at once.
I know, it's really weird. It just comes to me. And then, when it comes to me
in a visual form, I take it from there and make something visual. If it comes
in sounds, I just make sounds.
C.B-K: You must have explored
a lot of media with Fluxus artists in the 1960s and I know you had very serious
Y.O: Yes, well, with music, I had serious
training and with visual work, my mother was a painter. She was always kind of
intimidating because she was such a good painter. I think there was a feeling
on her part that if I did anything in visual art, she wanted to do it for me.
She would take the paintbrush and do it for you?
When I was a little girl, and I had to do homework for a painting class, she'd
say, "No, No. Just wait, wait. Do it this way." And one day, I had to
take this piece of work to school that was almost done by her. I was feeling so
embarrassed, but there was no choice but to take that painting to school. Everyone
was saying, "It's so good. I can't believe it's so-o good."
So, with the way your mother taught you, things had to be just "right?"
Yes, but, she taught me a lot through that. It was like some very overbearing
fathers who teach piano to their daughters and say, "You have to practice
now." Well, my father was one of those. He would always tell me that once
I start to play a piece, I have to make sure to always complete it -- that I should
not leave it in the middle.
C.B-K: That's ironic, because
as you got older, so much of your work was unfinished! [Laughter]
I know, I know! [Laughter] Actually, with the painting, my mother didn't tell
me that I should finish a painting, my mother would say to let her finish it,
because it was so bad or something. She taught me things like how to make something
three dimensional, and also to make something in a distance. She knew it all.
So, painting was not a world that was alien to me. And besides my mother being
a painter, one of my uncle's was also a painter and another uncle was a sculptor.
You had the music and the art background, but what about filmmaking?
Filmmaking, that's a totally different story. When I was connected with George
Maciunas, [of Fluxus] he just called me one day and said, "I've got this
machine that's extremely interesting. It's a high-speed camera and I can only
use it for today and tomorrow. Just think of an idea and we'll quickly do it."
So I thought of this incredible idea of the bottoms. I said I wanted to film it,
and he said," Okay, I'll come over and set it up for you." So he set
it up in my apartment. He was like that. He was always setting something up for
me, or making something for me. He was fantastic about that. A very creative guy.
During the beginning of the Conceptual Art movement in the 1960s , when you were
using language instead of paint and getting out important ideas, like art is in
the mind, were you aware of the work of Joseph Kosuth and Lawrence Weiner?
I didn't know anything about that. I met them probably in the 1980s or something.
But I was with people who were involved in the Fluxus movement and that was my
world. I'm sure that Joseph Kosuth and Lawrence Weiner were doing something too.
There were many of us who were actually drawn to come to New York at the time.
They were very interesting people. It was an incredible scene. It was really a
very important time.
C.B-K: Did you work closely with John
Y.O: No. I didn't work closely with him at all. Cage
was a very established person in his own right. He was amongst us, you know, the
younger generation in New York. He was called "J.C" -Jesus Christ.
Was your performance piece, Sky Piece for Jesus Christ, named for him?
Oh, that was a little pun -- kind of a double entendre. The younger ones (we)
were thinking that we were doing something that was a little bit of a step forward
from it. But we were all influenced by him, encouraged by him, inspired by him.
He was a big figure then. The funny thing about him -- he was a very good cook.
Sometimes, John and I were invited to his place when he was cooking for many other
people too, like Louise Nevelson and Merce
Cunningham -- his friends. Also, once he cooked a very nice meal for Toshi
and me. He was very proud of that, I think. And then he cooked a very good dinner
just for John and me. There was a funny history about that. And then, I think
it was the year he died, he suddenly said, "Why don't I cook for you again?
I'm going to prepare a beautiful dinner for you." I said, "Could I bring
my son?" He said, "yes." So, I took my son and myself to it and
it was very nice. It was almost like, I felt there was an end coming. I think
he was feeling that too.
C.B-K: Some of your very adventurous,
early performance pieces such as Fog Piece, Wall Piece for Orchestra, and Cut
Piece were kind of risky. Did you ever feel apprehensive performing them?
I wouldn't have made it now because I would worry about some people doing it,
not conceptually, and getting hurt or something. There was no concern about that
in those days, for me. I was just focusing on my artwork, following the idea --
and running with it.
Ono in 1961. © Lenono Photo Archive
Falling At Dawn by Yoko Ono, 1965