Original article in French: Madame Figaro
YOKO OH YES!
The Museum Of Contemporary Art in Lyon is celebrating this amazing lady of conceptual art with a huge exhibition. Yoko Ono is also releasing a new album where we see her collaborate with her son, Sean Lennon, as well as Moby. For ‘Madame Figaro’, Yoko Ono comes forward to tell her stories. Yes, Yoko is a witch… that no one wants to hunt anymore.
Sitting on the couch of her Dakota Building apartment in New York, surrounded by a white piano & silkscreens of herself and John Lennon, she responds to the many questions that her Twitter followers (close to 5 million) ask her every Friday.
Yoko Ono, aged 83, visual artist, musician, performance pioneer, continues to tenaciously innovate and astonish us. She seems to multiply through projects such as the retrospectives the greatest museums are dedicating to her. Since the MoMA exhibition in New York, it’s now the turn of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Lyon to pay homage with an exhibition of a hundred works of art, revisiting more than 60 years of her career, from 1952 to 2016.
With a title resonating like a haïku, ‘Yoko Ono: Light of Dawn’ is a retrospective that travels like her, without chronology, ranging from the invisible to the monumental, from her ‘Instruction Paintings’ to her most famous or recent videos and installations.
It’s impossible to define the kaleidoscopic Yoko Ono, who’s simultaneously releasing a new album called ‘Yes, I’m a Witch Too’ (Modulor Music). With her subtle voice and her geisha silhouette, the artist who has been called in the past “Miss Oh No!” as well as accused of being the witch responsible for the Beatles split, laughs when we mention the fact that it’s about time she receives global recognition: “I always thought that it was best to be patient and never stop creating art.” A mirror of her unfinished and constantly updated art, Yoko Ono opens up about the intricacies of her life and her imagination.
LIGHT OF DAWN
“This title arose while i was conceiving the exhibition. The search of light is at the origin of much of my art. The ‘Sky TV’ installation, for example, was born in 1966 while living in my windowless London apartment. I created a closed loop camera and filmed the sky from the building’s roof; the images were directly projected on my television. At that time, i had also conceived another work called ‘Light House’, while dreaming of a house filled with light. One day, John told me “You should build a tower of light!” I made fun of him… but in 2007, i finally was able to build this tower in Iceland, ‘The IMAGINE PEACE TOWER’. On a clear night, the light beam can reach up to 4 km in altitude.”
TOKYO MY LOVE
“My first memory of art lies in Tokyo, where i used to live surrounded by maids and preceptors. My father, a banker, was an excellent pianist, whose artistic potential had been hushed up by his family. My mother, an aristocrat, was an unhappy painter, complying to the Japanese tradition that includes respecting your husband’s requirements. Isolated, I was eating my lunch and dinner alone in a big room where the food was served on a long table, just for me. Everything was white, immaculate. I started imagining objects, constructions, to make it come alive. Afraid of breaking the opal silence, my imagination created sounds, stories, often violent, but white. Later, while I was exhibiting in New York, my mother told me politely: “Too bad you’re doing these weird things as you’re so brilliant!”
A LOFT IN NEW YORK
“When I was 19, I went to study at the Sarah Lawrence College, that I later fled, feeling asphyxiated by conservative teachers. I rented a loft in SoHo. I was earning my keep as a waitress and developing my “Instruction Paintings”, calligraphic instructions to create an invisible work of art based on sounds or visuals. My creations evolve and will be renewed after my passing thanks to prints of other hands. That’s what Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, George Maciunas and Marcel Duchamp taught me. I remember the latter walking on my “Paintings to be Stepped On”, paintings that were placed on the floor… Nowadays, during my exhibitions, I see people bypass my works, others stepping on them with incredible expressions. These reactions interest me.”
“I’m a comedian and my first meeting with John started like a game. It was in London in 1966 at the Indica Gallery, where I had an exhibition, containing my artwork ‘Apple’, amongst others. John entered and bit the apple that was displayed on a base! I found that very funny and I didn’t know he was a member of the Beatles. Like me, he wanted to desacralize art. He walked closer to ‘Ceiling Piece’, an installation that invites people to climb a ladder in order to observe, using a magnifying glass, a painting on the ceiling… When he arrived at the top, he read this word that i had inscribed with Indian Ink, in very small writing: “Yes”. “Imagine” and “Yes” are the key words in everything I create.”
“Breaking taboos, taking risks, feeling touched, is at the heart of my body of work. My performance called ‘Cut Piece’ is like an action painting: I’m the canvas and the public projects its emotions on it. I’m on stage, impassible, and I invite the spectators to come with scissors and cut my clothes, until I’m naked. I’m convinced that vulnerability is the most important of strengths.”
I AM A WITCH
“I had tried to record ‘Yes, I’m a Witch’ in 1972-1973. But I was so criticized that I wasn’t able to release it. Recently, I asked artists to each choose one of my songs and recreate the music. I’m 83 and I don’t want my voice to be buried alive. I had this experience myself. I was a persecuted woman. Probably because I’m a witch, but I’m not the only one! (Laughs) Lady Gaga, Marianne Faithfull, Peaches… we are many women burnt at the stake.”
WAR IS OVER
“I was in Japan when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and I will never forget the disaster and the pain. I have a lot of empathy for soldiers that die during wars. Whatever the war, whatever the country. With my work “Helmets”, the layers represent what is left of those soldiers. I wanted to show that their heads were full of sky fragments. If we all wish for peace, all together, we will obtain it. We need to capture the twilights of each dawn.”
SHE HAS BEEN MY GREATEST INFLUENCE – SEAN LENNON
My mother taught me many things about being an artist. She is able to be a film maker, a painter, a sculptor, a musician, a poet, an actor, a dancer… because for her, the content of art begins in your mind, in having a concept to begin with.
For example, I often notice she will write something down, like, ‘Imagine Peace.’ Then you will see that idea turn into a light sculpture, a lyric on her album ‘Between My Head and the Sky’, or a painting.
That’s why she considered herself to be a ‘conceptual artist,’ because she lives in her imagination. The physical form makes little difference to her. Some of my first memories are of being in the studio while my mother was working. So she has been my biggest influence in a way.
I think her allowing me to collaborate with her was only natural. She has survived many difficult situations, from bombings in Japan during WWII, to losing my father.
She was always a leader in a world that traditionally resisted female leadership. The other word that comes to mind is legend. She has pioneered so many things in so many different fields. There is really no one like her in history. To see this prestigious institution finally recognize her has been something for which I’ve waited my entire life.
On her new album, I chose to cover ‘Dogtown’. The entire (‘Season of Glass’) album is about my father’s death. She wrote and recorded it in the wake of that tragedy, and I was also there during much of the recording. That album taught me that no matter how difficult your life, music and art can allow you to transform the most horrible experiences into something quite transcendent.