Today's Inspiration- Yoko Ono's Cut Piece in 1964 and 2003

by - Monday, July 28, 2014

One of the most shocking parts of our high school reunion was how much like high school it was; people stretch and mingle a little, but in general, they hang out in the same cliques they did at 17. More than once, I heard someone say it actually felt like a high school cafeteria. I think the sameness of our performance as a group- staying with the people we preferred and interacting in established ways, really brings to light what has changed about us as individuals in 10 years. The change makes our not-quite-dead routines more meaningful and ridiculous all at once. This is why they scare the crap out of people, right?

Our theme for the art inspiration this week is how change over time can manifest in art and how time changes and reinforces an artwork's message. I usually wouldn't put Yoko Ono with a class reunion, except of course that she  would be awesome at any party, but she is actually talking about the same things.

In 2003, a 70-year-old Yoko Ono reperformed her most famous work- Cut Piece- in Paris with the hopes of encouraging peace (she does most of her work in this spirit now, follow her on twitter if you need some daily amazingness). She had first performed the work almost 40 years before (and before she was as much a celebrity as an artist). In the performance (done a few times in separate locations), Ono would sit on stage fully dressed, and audience members came up one at a time and cut off a piece of her clothes. Many people snipped off a tiny piece, but young Ono noted that a few men were violent or threatening. A few took pride in stripping her in front of the crowd, and she mentions she was afraid. What this work meant to Ono conceptually- was it about generosity? voyeurism? sexism? changed over the years multiple times as she re-conceived of her ouevre more than once.

When Ono reperformed the work so many years later, the power dynamic seems to have shifted. She no longer sits on the ground, but up on a chair. She is significantly more famous than those who came to see her.

You would think that due to these factors, her audience members might be more respectful, and though some were, it was not always the case. In fact, at first the chair seems to underline her new power, but as you watch the documentation, it instead reminds the viewer of how fragile she is. The gap in time makes the effect of time on her body a central part of the work. What is it to strip an elderly woman in front of a crowd? Instead of thinking of it from the perspective of the audience, Ono invites us to empathize and emulate her actions.  Her willingness to be vulnerable encouraged her international viewers to do the same. Revealing her body denies any desire to see her as anything but a corporeal and delicate presence, but it also demands that an older body is one worth seeing.

Ono's performance and re-performance teaches us about how to embrace the change of time. It also encourages us to be awesome, couragous, and vulnerable. So we could all be a little more Yoko at our class reunion. At least we should play her song, because she is heaven.

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