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Yoko Ono: Inside the mind of a lifelong outsider

by Louisa Buck, The Art Newspaper.

Artist, musician, muse and all-round cultural icon, Yoko Ono has been making waves ever since she was involved with the Fluxus movement in the 1960s. Today she comes to the Frieze Art Fair to deliver a keynote lecture that underlines her continuing engagement with performative practice and audience participation. This weekend she is also taking part in the Serpentine Manifesto Marathon which runs from 18-19 October, and her retrospective, “Between the Sky and My Head”, opens at Baltic in Gateshead on 14 December.

Yoko Ono

The theme of your Frieze talk is the significance of the performative in art—why is it so important now to promote work that is time- and event-based?
Because it is a beautiful way of connecting people to people and sharing experiences. And this is the time when we have to keep on exchanging ideas and just exchanging warmth.

When you’re speaking at Frieze, do you see the talk as a lecture, a performance, or an artwork?
I see it as an experience for communication in the sense that both parties will benefit from it—me and the audience.

You like to revisit past performances. Have audiences changed over the years?
It’s always the same in terms of our being human. Maybe people were a bit more reserved in the past, although they can still be reserved now. 

If you do the same piece, does the audience response change in different parts of the world?
Not too much, no. If you’re thinking about the Cut Piece [in which the audience are invited to cut pieces off the artist’s clothing as she sits motionless], I only did that in four different places: Kyoto, New York, London and Paris. It’s a piece that really brings out people’s hesitation.

The art world is so much more commercialised than in the 1960s. Is it more difficult for an artist to be a maverick and stir people up?
I’ve always been an outsider and I have the power of an outsider. And I bring that in. I’m always very, very different from the environment. That difference makes a very interesting power, I suppose.

In the 1960s you were an outsider because you were a radical, female, Japanese artist. Now you’re an outsider because you’re an icon in your own right. How do you feel about this shifting status?
Those are the labels that people put on me. I’m still me. The power that I have is from being me all the time instead of changing. The reaction to that and the response to that is still very complex, and people do react to the fact that I’m a woman and from a different race. 

How do you feel about the contemporary art market in its current state?
It’s a good time to go to the Frieze Art Fair and remind people of art itself, not the art market. And I think the art market will go on in a different way. It will not stay the way it is now, of course. It just goes up and down. Art will always exist with or without a market.

What role do you feel art has today?
We don’t have to find a way to do anything. We are. And what we can do is just show ourselves as we are and communicate and share what we are. That art can be a commodity is quite incidental to the value of our work and our communication. It’s good that we’re communicating without being totally destroyed by this commodity idea. You can’t destroy art. And that’s what’s so very beautiful about it. The Imagine Peace Tower [on Videy Island, Iceland] is a good example of a type of art that is not a commodity – it’s just standing there. People bring power to it by sending wishes via the Wish Trees that I set up in different places around the world. So the Peace Tower is getting stronger and stronger.

Will you be putting a Wish Tree in London?
I don’t really “put them up”, they just happen.

It was at the Indica Gallery that you met John Lennon in 1966 and I know you come back to London often—is it still a special place for you?
London means a lot to me. It is definitely one of my homes because of all the stuff we did here together. We lived here from 1966 to 1972—it was a very intense period, shall we say. And now I go back to the fact that, in a way, we are still artists just doing a show in a gallery and hoping that people come and see us and communicate. There was a time that America was the centre of art and now the centre is in London. It’s a very different character being expressed, and I like that.

The art world is now global and very different from when you started. It is much easier to communicate to a far wider audience.
Yeah, it’s great. In the beginning it was nothing like that. We didn’t even have women artists. It didn’t translate to money or anything. Now it reaches more people, maybe. In those days, it might have been slow, but it did reach people and influence people. Fewer people appreciated the art and it was put down by most people, by the world. But now people remember and they want to do something worth a million dollars. And sometimes you do something with a large communication quickly, but it’s maybe forgotten or misunderstood. So you just have to keep throwing balls out and seeing what happens.

Yoko Ono is talking today at 5pm in the Frieze Auditorium

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2008-11-07T20:08:33+00:00 October 17th, 2008|Events & Exhibitions News, Interviews & Articles|