Hi, everyone! My name is XXX. Today, I’d like to introduce one of the most exciting, yet also the most misunderstood female artists in the world, Yoko Ono. Her marriage with John Lennon and association with the Beatles breakup often obscures Ono’s great contribution to conceptual and performance art. However, there are always hostile responses and considerable disagreements towards Ono’s works as not a true art. Despite that, Ono has won the Lifetime Achievement Award in the Observer Ethical Awards for her activism lasting over half a century.
Yoko Ono, born February 18th, 1933 in Tokyo, becomes an influential artist and musician of conceptual and performance art in the 1960s. Ono grew up in a wealthy Japanese family, and she excelled at almost everything she did, especially in study.
In 1952, she became the first woman to study philosophy at Japan’s Gakushuin University. Next year, she moved to the U.S. to study writing and music at Sarah Lawrence College, but again dropped out shortly after the enrollment.
After dropping out, she became involved in the Fluxus movement, and greatly influenced the international development of Visual and Conceptual art, filmmaking, and experimental music.
Ono produced amazing artworks in multiple medias, including her interactive conceptual art, experimental music, filmmaking, and feminism, um…., maybe also her third marriage with John Lennon. Her combined work has been exhibited in a unique show at The Museum of Modern Art, entitled Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960-1970. Later Yoko received a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 2009 Venice Biennale.
After a journal to Japan in 1962–64, Ono married filmmaker Anthony Cox (divorced 1969), and continued to build her reputation in the United States with his help. The most famous work, cut piece, was composed in 1964, which I would expand later.
In 1966, Ono and her husband Cox began making films, including the risqué No. 4. Sam year Ono met Lennon, and impressed him with the interactive work of Ceil painting, which invites the audience to climb a ladder and use the magnifying glass hanging beside it to see the word "YES."
In 1968, Ono and Lennon started experimental films and recordings of their album Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins, whose cover controversially featured a photograph of them naked. The two got married in 1969, which brought her instant celebrity. During their honeymoon, Ono and Lennon performed a weeklong antiwar protest in their honeymoon suite, called bed-in, to raise attention toward social justice.
After the breakup of Beatles, Yoko soon started her own band, Plastic Ono Band in 1970, creating a variety of cutting-edge works, including Fly and Approximately Infinite Universe. She keeps working as an artist and activist after Lennon’s death. Both ‘wish trees’ and ‘the imagine peace tower’ are intended for preserve the memory of Lennon and deliver a message of peace to all people.
Sadly, Yoko is not best-known for her vanguard conceptual and multi-media art, but her marriage to John Lennon, even though her work pushes the boundaries of what art can be, in order to inspire wide social change in her audiences. One of the clear examples of Yoko’s groundbreaking performances is “Cut Piece” from 1964. This piece was performed at least four more times in Japan, London and the United States.
Yoko’s childhood experience has strong impacts on the key theme of her artworks, ‘Peace’. She is the daughter of a Japanese banker and a pianist, and lived a wealthy childhood. However, during the second world war, Tokyo was hit with massive booms, and the economy was in regression. Ono’s happy, wealthy life was destroyed. And that’s why Ono always try to add the peruse for peace in her artworks.
As for Cut piece, Ono kneels on an empty stage with a pair of scissors in front of her. Nothing was said except the outline of the performance, i.e. all audience members were welcome to come on stage one by one, cut off any piece of her clothing and take the piece back to their seat as a souvenir until Ono decided when to end. This work is intended to address the issue of sexual violence and her stance to feminism. Also, the way Ono’s clothing was cut into small pieces can replicate the impacts of bomb fell on people’s clothing in Japan, and remind the audience members of the tragedies caused by war and the importance of peace actions.
Cut Piece is one of Yoko Ono’s most famous artworks, which still remains a precursor in feminist and body-centered art pieces and performances. The refreshing use of an interactive performance form really gives the audience a strong impression. Let’s watch the video of this Piece to understand how audiences view it. (hit the play)
It is clear that at first, the audience is hesitant- they came up and cut small pieces of her shirt or skirt and quickly ran back to their seats. However, as the performance went on, they became bolder. A man came up and cut off the front of her bra, and another cut off the strap, Ono had to use her arms and hands to cover up her naked body. Without a definitive ending, the work could be constantly changing and surprise the viewers.
The second work of Ono that I like to discuss is Voice Piece for Soprano composed in 1961. The work consists of an empty room with text on one side that reads "Scream against the wind/against the wall/against the sky." At the other end is a microphone and loudspeakers. Then Ono or others could participate. Just like showed in the picture, this work was installed in the massive atrium of the Museum of Modern Art in 2010. However, against Ono’s intention, the museum ultimately turned the volume down due to s large number of complaints to the intolerable sound. Intolerable sound, it’s hard to imagine.
To make it easy for you to understand, let’s watch the video of Ono’s performance in the museum. Maybe then you would have a clear vision, notice that it can get a little noisy. (hit the play)
To many people, this work is hard to understand and appreciate, with those load yelling, weird noises, and blood-curdling screams. But, try to think about the meaning behind. It was an interactive work designed to represent Ono's anti-authoritarian stance toward institutions and break the typical rule of museum etiquette. Ono invites passionate chaos into the art to liberate those who listen.
Today, Yoko Ono continues to express her artistic practice strongly as ever. Her latest causes include campaigning for gun control and against fracking keep getting people attention with her strong influences. Even though her idea that we will have heaven on Earth in 2050 is somewhat utopian, her never-ending pursue and hope for peace would keep inspire us through Yoko Ono’s artworks.