last week I visited Yoko Ono’s show To the Light at the Serpentine gallery. Until recently I had always thought of Yoko Ono as John Lennon’s wife who happened to be an artist, rather than as an interesting and influential artist in her own right. Her relationship with Lennon undoubtedly fuels people’s interest in her work and walking into the Serpentine to hear Lennon’s Imagine being played in the background emphasises this. Of course the tragedy of Lennon’s death influenced Ono’s work, as the death of a loved one does for many artists. But hearing the song made me begin to wonder if Yoko Ono really has been able to escape Lennon’s shadow, and if she even wants to.
Cut Piece 1964 Yoko Ono
Some of the last works that you see in the show are two films that document separate performances of Cut Piece arguably one of Ono’s most famous performances in which she invites spectators to cut off pieces of her clothing. The two films are shown facing one another, emphasising the differences in the performances. Although the premise is the same in each the reaction of the participants is markedly different. The film of the 1964/5 performance is far shorter than the 2003 film. In the latest performance Ono is treated with more reverance than her younger self was. People appear timid and shy to cut away at her clothes, one woman dramatically declares ‘I cannot do it I cannot remove Yoko’s clothes’ before leaving the stage. The participants talk to her or kiss her and thank her. She is now a celebrity, which she was not when she first performed the piece in 1964. The contrasts between the work reflect not only Ono’s changing position in society but that of the artist in general. The artist who was once a mysterious figure in the background in forced to the foreground and has become an icon or celebrity. The recent show at MoMA The Artist is Present, by Marina Abramovic incurred day long queues of people desperate to see the artist. It is a recent phenomenon that can be very closely linked to the rising popularity of exhibition and performance art.
Cut piece 2003 Yoko Ono Photograph Ken McKay, © Yoko Ono; Courtesy Lenono Photo Archive.
It is hard to work out how much the success of this exhibition relies upon the British public’s fascination with the family of an iconic British star. It also depends on whether you measure success on visitor numbers or critics’ reviews. I found areas of the show disappointing but this is probably because of where my own interests in Ono’s work lies, in her performances and instructional pieces. I enjoy seeing an artist who does not stick to one media, as I see that reflected in my own work. Overall I think that the show is a good representation of Ono’s work as an artist and not as a platform for bringing back the past.
I’ve been a bit relaxed about keeping up my art practice since the degree show went up at the end of May. I’ve been using the excuse of needing a break, working part-time and job hunting and making improvements to my blog (I now have a gallery section!) But I’ve decided it’s high time I got back to do some work.
My work recently has been looking at the behaviours of people within galleries. To get me back into the swing of things I am going to begin by doing some drawings from the films I took in May of people in various galleries and exhibitions. I’m hoping that this exercise will help inspire some new work.