Yoko Ono

ECC Collection
Oct 11, 2017 10:14AM

Driven by a wish to do good to society, Yoko Ono (1933, Tokyo, Japan) creates works - ideas, scores, performances, sculptures, installations, music - that a.o. address the effect of ideas on the actions of human beings, allowing the viewer to see things in a new light.

This is a passage from the interview, documented in Personal Structures Art Project #09 "Arising" with Yoko Ono. The PSAP is available for purchasing from the ECC Collection.

By Karlyn de Jongh & Sarah Gold, February - March 2013

The flames

Karlyn de Jongh, Yoko Ono, and Sarah Gold

The 'burnt women'

Yoko Ono - Arising Special Project

Sarah Gold: In our 55th Biennale di Venezia exhibition you show your work ARISING. What does the title mean to you?

Yoko Ono: We, women, are now rising together. ARISING expresses the rising of our spirits.

SG: The work ARISING consists of 'burnt women' from different cultures from all over the world. Their 'remains' will be put on display and visitors may take small fragments in boxes provided. Could you explain why you 'burnt' the women and then why their 'remains' may be taken by 'strangers'?

YO: It is a symbolic act of what women are going through in our world on this planet. We are being burnt, drowned, chained and raped and humiliated.

SG: ARISING does not only consist of the 'remains' of the 'burnt' women. There will also be the possibility for women (and only for women) to put their photographs on the walls of the exhibition and to add a small text about their suffering as a woman. What would you like to achieve with this statement? Why are only women 'allowed' to participate?

YO: So that it will sink into our consciousness what we are going through. It will give us a moment for meditation without the interference of minds of men.

SG: As the exhibition progresses the pile of 'remains' will become smaller, but the photographs and writings on the wall will increase. What is the relationship between the pile getting less and the wall with photo's and text getting more?

YO: The reality will be buried and forgotten, but what all women have gone through will be passed on and told forever.

SG: Is there any relation between ARISING and your 1996 record RISING?

YO: RISING was telling all people that it is time for us to rise and fight for our rights. But in the process of fighting together, woman are still being treated seperatley in an inhuman way. It weakers the power of men and women all together. I hope ARISING will wake up WOMEN POWER, and make ut, men and women, heal together.

Karlyn de Jongh: Sarah and I met you in Frankfurt, Germany, for the opening of your half-a-wind show at Schirn Kunsthalle. When you entered the space before your performance Sky Piece to Jesus Christ, a woman from the audience shouted: 'Yoko, I love you!'. I was pleasantly surprised to see your reaction: you stood up and shouled back: 'I love you too!'. When you say 'I love you' to a complete stranger, what does love mean to you?

YO: Our planet is almost too small for all of us to be on. We are family. I feel incredible love for all people who are on the planet now with me.

KDJ: After the performance in Frankfurt, you explained that you had broken a vase that day. Everybody could take a piece of that broken vase and ten years later (in 2023) we would all meet again and glue the pieces back together. The action reminded me of the classic idea of the 'symbol': the object stands for something else, it points away from itself to something else. In your case, the symbol seems to be a reminder of a moment in time, 13 February 2013 in Frankfurt, but also points towards the future (2023). What is the awareness that you want to create by this? Is it for you about being 'here and now'? Or is it for you more about 'being together', creating a special bond between 300 strangers who happened to be in the same room in Frankfurt at that particular moment?

YO: All good artworks, supposedly, have layers of meanings though the expressed body could be minimal. You poinhted our two: it is about being here and now, and about being together. Also, letting us know that a promise is made. How we deal with that promise will be different with each one of us, and that is incredibly interesting as well.

SG: What does the title half-a-wind show mean?

YO: We live in the world in which we only know half of everything. One day everything will be transparent to us, but not yet.

SG: After the opening of your retrospective at the Schirn Kunsthalle you went on to Berlin where you celebrated your birthday at the Paris Bar and you gave a concert. Being a creature of both art and music, have the two always harmonically coincided with each other?

YO: Yes, of course. Music is visual, and visual art is music.

KDJ: In several of your works the day seems important, f.e. Counting Piece I and II (1962) or Morning Piece (1964) in which you are selling future and past mornings. What does the day mean to you?

YO: Life.

KDJ: Another Japanese artist, On Kawara, started his Today Series in 1966. Was this focus on 'the day' or on 'time in art' a coincidence?

YO: On was a friend. I left New York on September 1st, 1966. I don't think there is such a thing as coincidence. Coincidence is a name we give to a phenomenon we don't understand.

SG: YES (1966) is not only a title of a work but also a way to live a happy and interesting life. The Dutch artits Rene Rietmeyer (and initiator of the project PERSONAL STRUCTURES) has taught me to say YES to all that comes across life. Can you tell me how YES has influenced your life?

YO: To understand that everything that comes to me are blessings.

SG: To understand and/or to make your work 'complete', the interaction with the spectator is often essential. What is the reason for this needed interaction?

YO: Monologue is dancing by yourself. That's not bad either. But when you start a dialogue, your heart leaps a little, and you go on dancing with a smile!

KDJ: Your 'scores' are written texts that possibly involve an action. Is this action required, or does the work also exist without it being acted upon?

YO: You could enact the score conceptually or by acting out. It's your call.

KDJ: At the Venice International Performance Art Week in our Palazzp Bembo in 2012, your showed BAG PIECE, a work that was first performed in 1964. When we were at Schirn, Sarah and I saw photos of the 1964 performance. The work exists, but it seems different every time, each time a different location, other people in the bags or it is presented through photos. How do you understand the existence of your artworks through time?

YO: Beethoven's Fifth is always performed differently.

SG: Karlyn and I saw Sky Piece to Jesus Christ being re-performed in Frankfurt (2013). Has the work changed its meaning for you over the years?

YO: It was so nice to be reminded of this piece. The Frankfurt performance was beautiful. Think of it as any music score. It is different each time, and it is always interesting to me.

KDJ: Thinking of Lawrence Weiner and his idea that 'laguage is material' made me wonder about the materiality of your work. Especially with your scores, but also with your performances, what your work'is', often seems untouchable and seems to have more to do with a moment in time. What does material mean to you?

YO: Something that enables the score to communicate to the performer.

KDJ: During the opening of your half-a-wind show at Schirn, I was talking to someone and suddenly noticed a black mark on the wall. When I came closer, I noticed it was your handwriting: 'This room is bright blue', you had written. The sentence made me realize where I was at that moment. It was like a poke, to imagine the world could be different, but it is like this. Is this right? Or does the imagined world really exist? Are there multiple worlds?

YO: There is only one world - a beautiful world of eternal wellbeing. We just don't notice it sometimes.

KDJ: During your life, you seem to have always done your maximum best to promote peace and even since a few years, you hand out your own 'Peace Prize'. Do you feel you have been able to make a difference or is peace a utopia? In your opinion, what would the ideal world be like?

YO: Numerologically, it has been calculated that by 2050, all of us will be living in heaven on earth. Let's sustain ourselves and live that day.

SG: PERSONAL STRUCTURES is an open platform for artists who work with the subjects of Time, Space and Existence. To me, yourwork is filled with these subjects. Which of the 3 subjects, if any, are more important to you - and you?

YO: They are all important.

SG: What comes into your mind by the following words: Existence (and co-existence), Space and Time.

YO: Existence is what we think we are. Space is the freedom we have, and Time is merely a man-made concept, we threaten ourselves with and at the same time be bored with.

KDJ: The Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima has three main concepts for his art: (1) keep changing, (2) continue forever and (3) connect with everything. The concepts are there to explain what he calls 'The Life' (containing life and death). It seems Miyajima understands each human's life to end when the person dies, but 'The Life' (life in general) continues to exist. How is that for you? Do you live forever? How do you understand 'life'?

YO: Life is what makes us have this dialogue. Isn't it nice? Life is. And it is a miracle we enjoy.

KDJ: It seems for you 'the other' - instead of 'ego' or 'me' - has been the main focus of your art (and life). How is your relation to 'the other'? And how do you see yourself?

YO: I am the other in terms of you. Be aware of the other. It gives you wisdom and power for knowing...

KDJ: The body seems to be an important element for your work. At the same time, you seem to focus on 'things' that are in the mind: dream, imagination. What does 'body' mean to you?

YO: It is what we are.

KDJ: When I visited Japan in 2008 for our PERSONAL STRUCTURES symposium about Existence, I learned that what is 'logic' for me is not 'logic' in Japan. I can imagine that being a Japanese woman living in New York in the 60s, it was not always easy. What pulled you through?

YO: To me, there is no such thing as Japanese thinking or Western thinking. It is all individual thinkings. And I enjoy communicating with all of them.

SG: Seeing yo[au perform - drawing on 7 canvases in lightning speed - I was amazed by your sheer dynamic. You just turned 80 years now. How do you feel about yourself?

YO: I realized that day as same as yesterday - when I was 79.

KDJ: In an interview for PERSONAL STRUCTURES: TIME SPACE EXISTENCE in 2009, Arnulf Rainer told me that 'Life, as it appears, is a pale reflection of art, of artistic creation.' Now you are 80 years old and it seems you lived a very intense and challenging life. In works such as 'Smile', it seems that for you art and life have always been quite interwoven. How do you see the relation between art and life?

YO: Art is an expression of life. Life makes all expressions possible. Still art is just an expression, while life is reality.

ECC Collection