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women's room in denmark


By Gunhild Borggreen in May 2004

Yoko Ono visited the city of Aarhus (the second largest city in Denmark) in the western part of Denmark on the occasion of an exhibition of some of Yoko Ono's works at the Kvindemuseum (Women's Museum). In the morning, Yoko Ono appeared for about an hour in a kind of Q&A performance staged at the Gran Theatre for Dance in Aarhus for an audience of about 250 persons. Here follows an account of the event.

The room is black: black walls, black floor, black ceiling, black curtains screening the entrance area. The seats for the audience are black, and placed in steep rows at the back of the room. On the floor in front of the audience seats is a small table with a chair on each side, and a bit further to the side, a third chair.

Yoko Ono enters, dressed in black, wearing sunglasses and a white cap. She has a microphone attached to her clothes, and approaching the third chair, announces that she will now try to find the most comfortable position on the chair. She then starts turning the chair around and up-side-down, placing herself on top or lying down on the floor beside it. None of these positions seem to be comfortable, since she moves around again soon afterwards. She removes her jacket, her cap, her scarf. She ends with the chair in a normal upright position, and sits on it with her legs spread out, announcing "this is the most comfortable position. But there are positions we cannot control."

"I want someone to remember me"

She takes another microphone and starts moving around on the floor while a tape is played with sounds of heart beat and some previous recordings of Yoko Ono's own voice. She joins in the voices, overlapping, with moans, laughs, screams, and short sentences which are mainly phrases of disgust or fear voiced by a woman. Rhythmic music starts, and her movements become dance movements. The sequence ends by her saying repeatedly: "I want someone to remember me, I want someone to remember me. I was raised with no-one to love me, except my husband, who was killed." The music and the voices stop.

Yoko Ono goes back to the middle of the floor scene area, to the table and two chairs. Now enters Lars Schwander, Danish photographer and head of Fotografisk Center in Copenhagen, who knows Yoko Ono well, and have performed like this with her at previous occasions. He sits on one of the chairs, and starts asking her questions, such as the meaning of some of her art works, but he actually seldom gets clear answers. Yoko Ono moves around him, sits down on the other chair but gets up again in an instant, and soon draws forth a tape measure and starts measuring various parts of Lars Schwander's body. Instead of answering his questions, she states things such as: "You head is wider than your shoulders!" or "Your hands are longer than your legs", and later explains: "It is because you think too much and walk too little." Referring to one of Yoko Ono's photo works, Lars Schwander asks "How was Nora?", and rather than answering directly, she commands him to get up from the chair and sit on her chair instead, and later again moving both chairs around so that she ends up with her back to him, while he repeats his question. She then gets down on the floor next to his chair, and looks up on him, telling him that he looks very different fomr this position. "You look like a statue", she says, and he answers "Well, I don't want to be a statue", to which she replies: "You have no choice."

Later, Lars Schwander asks about Yoko Ono's activities in the 1960s and 70s and her affiliation with minimal and conceptual art. She answers: "I don't think of my work as minimal or conceptual, I just did what I had to do. I am a small person, so perhaps it is minimal." Lars Schwander continues the topic and asks what it meant that she used a lot of transparent material such as plexiglass and glass back in the 60s and 70s, to which she answered: "It was available for me." Referring to the later so-called "bronze age", he askes again what it meant that she shifted material like this. She replied briefly: "I could afford it."

Then a slide projector is turned on, and a row of slides showed in fast succession some of her works such as "Memory paintings" intermingle with photos of art works by other artists (a Willem de Kooning painting was among the slides, to which Yoko Ono commented "He copied me, you know"), but also photos of soldiers at war and other types of photo journalistic documents were among the slides.

After this, Yoko Ono invited the audience to ask questions as well, and while this session goes on, some of the theatre staff walk up and down the rows of audiences and unroll balls of blue cotton yarn and tie it loosely around every individual audience member. On the stage, two men sit with each their yard stick and measure up some other cotton yarn, cut it into lengths and drop them into glass containers. The questions that audiences give are varied, some of them being concrete questions of for example the Pet Shop Boys remix of her song Walking on Thin Ice some years back, to which Yoko Ono replied "It wasn't screaming." Most of the questions were answered seriously, and Yoko Ono seemed to be very attentive towards the person asking the question (contrary to the more joking and performing element she did with Lars Schwander). She talked about the sky: "the sky is the only permanent thing you have, the sky is my security blanket." One person asked a request: a hug from Yoko Ono, to which she responded by embracing herself and saying "Now I hug all of you!", and continued a bit about her personal emotions about turning 70, now realizing that someday she has to say goodbye to her lover, life. She also talked about domestic violence against women, and she commented on the Kvindemuseum (Women's museum) in Aarhus at which an exhibition of Yoko Ono's works opened the same day: the museum was, contrary to what she had expected, a large, elegant building centrally located and with a lot of attention and activities going on. She also, answering another question, commented on Aage Rosendahl and the activites around World University that took place in the northwestern part of Denmark in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Yoko Ono and John Lennon had been sympathetic to the ideas and had visited the place back in 1969 and 1970.

"The opposite of wisdom is not stupidity but confusion"

Another audience member told about his wife who was very sick of cancer, and asked Yoko Ono and the audience to concentrate their minds for a brief moment so that his wife could be able to make a decision about life or death. To this rather personal request, Yoko Ono responded by suggesting a 10 second prayer, and everyone held their breath and sat quietly for a minute or so. Yoko Ono then spoke about the opposite of love not being hate but fear, and the opposite of wisdom is not stupidity but confusion, and that if his wife was able to free herself from fear and confusion, she would be able to make the right decision. Another female audience wanted to give Yoko Ono a picture her nine-year old daughter had made, and yet another female audience said she had made a drawing of John Lennon which she wanted to give to Yoko Ono. At this point, Yoko Ono responded rather vaguely that the woman should instead hand it to the staff, and the Q&A session ended soon after. No more questions from the audience.

At the end, a large pot of clay was carried on to the scene and placed in front of the audience, along with a bundle of cloth. Inside the bundle was a pile of potsherd similar in colour and material to the large pot, and Yoko Ono ended the session by suggesting that everyone should take a piece of potsherd on the way out, and that we should all meet again in 10 years from now and mend the pot together into a whole.

I don't know what I had expected from the event, but it made a huge impression on me how open and outwardly Yoko Ono had acted, and how seriously she seemed to take even the most peculiar comments and requests. Of course, much of it was professionalism, Yoko Ono having so much experience in performance sessions like this, but still, she really did manage to get over the edge of the scene and into the hearts and minds of most of the audience members.



© Lenono Photo Archive 2003
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