On July 20, 1964, when Ono was 31 years old, she debuted Cut Piece at the Yamaichi Concert Hall in Kyoto, Japan. At the time, she was already known in the avant-garde art communities of New York and Tokyo, and had been recognized in Japan for her 1962 collaboration with John Cage and David Tudor, in which Ono laid across the top of an open grand piano. Cut Piece was innovative, though, for its fusion of active, even aggressive audience participation, and for its feminist themes.
For the performance, Ono sat motionless on stage wearing a long-sleeved black suit, with a pair of scissors in front of her. An announcement to the audience invited them to “come on stage—one at a time—to cut a small piece of the performer’s clothing to take with them,” according to Ono’s original score for the artwork. During both this performance and its reprisals in Tokyo, New York, London, and Paris, viewers followed Ono’s instructions and snipped away at cloth, revealing her naked body underneath. In the process, Ono simultaneously gave viewers agency in the creation of art, and implicated them in the act of exposing the female body. As Helena Reckitt put it
in her book Art and Feminism
, Cut Piece
explores “how viewing without responsibility has the potential to harm or even destroy the object of perception.”