Yoko Ono: CUT PIECE Performed by Yoko Ono on July 20, 1964 at Yamaichi Concert Hall, Kyoto, Japan. Photographer unknown; courtesy Lenono Photo Archive.

Yoko Ono’s CUT PIECE : From Text to Performance and Back Again

by Kevin Concannon

Art is inexorably bound up in the situation where it is produced and where it is experienced. You can emphasize this, or you can emphasize where it is produced or experienced: you can even equate them, and emphasize the equation. The relationship exists in any case, and, either as artist or as audience, we are in a situation analogous to a swimmer who may fight the surf, dive through it and struggle against it until he gets out beyond where the surf is noticeable: or else this swimmer can roll with the waves. Dick Higgins, Postface (1964) [1]

The seemingly sudden and recent popularity of reprise performances of live artworks of the 1960s and 1970s has been greeted with an equally abundant supply of critical analysis, much of which frames these events as “reenactments.” Such is the case with Yoko Ono’s 2003 performance of her 1964 Cut Piece. It was performed by Ono on at least six occasions and by others many times more. The first two performances took place in Kyoto and Tokyo in July and August 1964. The third performance was presented at Carnegie Recital Hall in New York City in March 1965. And the fourth and fifth performances were offered as part of the Destruction in Art Symposium presentation of Two Evenings with Yoko Ono at the Africa Centre in London in September 1966. While Ono “directed” later performances of the work, these were – until September 2003 – the only confirmed occasions on which she herself publicly performed it.

In these first performances by Ono, the artist sat kneeling on the concert hall stage, wearing her best suit of clothing, with a pair of scissors placed on the floor in front of her. Members of the audience were invited to approach the stage, one at a time, and cut a bit of her clothes off – which they were allowed to keep. The score for Cut Piece appears, along with those for several other works, in a document from January 1966 called Strip Tease Show.

Cut Piece First version for single performer: Performer sits on stage with a pair of scissors in front of him. It is announced that members of the audience may come on stage – one at a time – to cut a small piece of the performer’s clothing to take with them. Performer remains motionless throughout the piece. Piece ends at the performer’s option.

Second version for audience: It is announced that members of the audience may cut each other’s clothing. The audience may cut as long as they wish.

And in the 1971 paperback edition of her book, Grapefruit, Ono included not so much a score as a description, concluding with the statement that, “the performer, however, does not have to be a woman.”

In her catalogue essay for the 2005 exhibition, Life, Once More: Forms of Reenactment in Contemporary Art, Jennifer Allen characterizes Ono’s 2003 performance of Cut Piece as a “reenactment,” and imputes to the artist rather grand ambitions for the event.

Yoko Ono, Cut Piece, 1964. Performed on September 15, 2003 at Theatre Le Ranelagh, Paris, France. Photo: Ken McKay, © Yoko Ono; Courtesy Lenono Photo Archive.

In September 2003 at Paris’s Ranelagh Theatre, Yoko Ono reenacted her own Cut Piece as an expression of her hope for world peace…. One could argue that the original performances of the sixties and seventies needed to be reenacted in order to catch up with the spectacle, in order to be reproduced, in order to exist. Ono’s intervention seems to differ since she decided to reenact Cut Piece, not for an exhibition, but for the mass media, and not merely to ensure the continued existence of her work, but in order to make a difference in the present. In France, the organizers placed a full – page advert for the event with a statement by Ono who described her intervention as a response to the political changes in the wake of 9/11. Her statement appeared around the world for a little bit longer than fifteen minutes. It seems that Ono hoped that her performance would reenact the peace movement of the sixties on a global scale. In this case, the reenactment searched for a lost totality, not in the performance, but in an entire generation. [2]

There are a number of problems with this assessment. Most importantly, the very notion that Ono reenacted her own work seems to miss the point of an event score entirely. In the two score variations quoted above, Ono refers to the performer in the third person – and makes it clear that the performer may be either male or female. Thus there is no sense of an “original” performance – or any sense of priority for the artist’s own performances – even after the fact. The texts are not so much documents of a singular performance as the performances are realizations of the score. And whether these realizations are made by the artist herself or another performer – or whether they are made in 1964 or 2007 – makes little difference in this regard. While Allen suggests that performances of the sixties and seventies might be reenacted “in order to be reproduced, in order to exist,” she seems to recognize that there is more than this behind Ono’s 2003 performance when she notes that Ono mounted her Paris performance “not merely to ensure the continued existence of her work, but in order to make a difference in the present.”

Having conceived Cut Piece as an event score, Ono foresaw the work’s realization in a succession of presents. And from the start, she understood that in each of these presents the work would be transformed – not from any authentic original, but from an idea into an experience – each one distinct from the others. Ono has described her instruction works – or scores – as “seeds,” activated individually and collectively in the minds and actions of those who receive them. And as is often the case with her work, this germinating idea is manifest in multiple variations.

Yoko Ono, Cut Piece, 1964. Performed on March 21, 1965 at Carnegie Recital Hall, New York. Photo: Minoru Niizuma, © Yoko Ono; Courtesy of Lenono Photo Archive

At earlier performances of Cut Piece, Ono has discussed the work in several different ways. As will be clarified below, she has characterized it as a test of her commitment to life as an artist, as a challenge to artistic ego, as a gift, and as a spiritual act. Critics over the years have interpreted Cut Piece as a striptease, a protest against violence and against war (specifically the Vietnam War), and most recently (and most frequently) as a feminist work. In September 2003, at the age of seventy, Ono performed Cut Piece in Paris “for world peace.” Thirty – nine years after her first performance of the work, she told Reuters News Agency that she did it “against ageism, against racism, against sexism, and against violence.” Although neither Ono nor her critics framed Cut Piece as a feminist work in the 1960s when she was first performing it, she has clearly subsumed the subsequent feminist interpretations of her piece into her own revised intention all these years later.

John Lennon noted on more than one occasion that Ono was “the world’s most famous unknown artist.” Although Ono had already established a fairly substantial reputation in London by the time she first met Lennon in November 1966, her subsequent liaison with the married Beatle soon eclipsed her growing reputation as a prominent avant – garde artist. And after marrying Lennon she became “the woman who broke up the Beatles,” and consequently an object of scorn in the worldwide press. In addition to losing her artistic identity (in the popular press) and being labeled a homewrecker, Ono bore the brunt of an onslaught of racism and sexism that is still hard to fathom thirty – odd years later. It is hardly surprising then that she now offers her performance against racism and against sexism. And, having last performed it in the eighth decade of her life, ageism has become part of her personal experience as well. To borrow Higgins’s metaphor, she is rolling with the waves (or perhaps the punches).

In recent years, even before the current vogue for “reenactment,” Ono’s work has become an increasingly popular subject of art – historical reclamation, culminating in the recent retrospective exhibition and book, Yes Yoko Ono. Since her reemergence onto the art scene (having been virtually ignored by the artworld during her years with Lennon) with a small exhibition of bronzes at the Whitney Museum in 1989, the majority of authors who have considered her work as a visual artist (or a recording artist, for that matter) have presented her work as “proto – feminist,” typically citing Cut Piece, as a major example from the sixties. The act of art historical description and interpretation is a form of “reenactment” as well, of course. Allen’s contention that performances might be reenacted “to catch up with the spectacle, in order to be reproduced, in order to exist,” seems to imply that the “event” of the performance is a “media event” of sorts – prompting the consequential press (or art – historical literature) as its objective. In the case of the performance reenactments of which she writes, however, it seems more likely that it is exactly the other way around. That is, it is the art – historical attention that prompts the “reenactments.”

While Ono’s own earlier discussions of the work’s inspiration and “meaning” certainly accommodate any number of different readings, the current dominance of feminist approaches – something the artist herself has clearly accepted and reinvested into her 2003 performance – or at least her discussion of it – has had the cumulative effect of recasting Cut Piece as one – dimensional – and in the process ironically marginalizing the very work these feminist scholars seek to reclaim for history – and indeed have. As shall become clear, the differences between Ono’s own earlier explanations of the piece and the feminist framings by critics writing since Ono’s 1989 reemergence are substantial, though certainly not irreconcilable. These differences can be understood, of course, in the context of the hermeneutics to which Higgins alludes in the epigraph. Elsewhere, he has proposed that hermeneutics is an ideal approach with which to critically consider Fluxus performances. Paraphrasing Hans – Georg Gadamer, Higgins explains:

The performer performs the work. He or she establishes a horizon of experience – what is done, its implications and whatever style the performer uses are all aspects of this horizon.

The viewer has his or her own horizon of experience. He or she watches the performance, and the horizons are matched up together. To some extent there is a fusion of these horizons (Horizontverschmelzung). When the horizons fuse, wholly or in part, they are bent, warped, displaced, altered. The performance ends, and the horizons are no longer actively fused. The viewer examines his or her horizon. It is changed, for the better or for the worse. The best piece is the one that permanently affects the recipient’s horizon, and the worst is the piece which the recipient, acting in good faith, cannot accept at all. [3]

While Ono’s Cut Piece is not necessarily a Fluxus work, Gadamer’s hermeneutic model is entirely appropriate, as I will demonstrate below. But first, a review of the work’s critical reception is in order. My first example raises the important question of documentation in addition to the current pervasiveness of the work’s feminist interpretation.

In 1992 artist Lynn Hershman was commissioned to re – document Cut Piece for European television. Working from photos and texts, as well as a first – hand account of one of Ono’s performances that a colleague of hers had seen, Hershman created a fifteen – minute video documentation of a 1993 performance staged with three actors specifically for this purpose. Her attempts to interview Ono for the project were unsuccessful. Cut Piece: A Video Homage to Yoko Ono concludes with a discussion between art historians Moira Roth and Whitney Chadwick; the tape had been produced with the classroom in mind, Hershman told an interviewer in 1993.

One of the most obvious ways in which the video seems to deviate from the original performance score is in its splicing together of three performances by three different women. Hershman saw Cut Piece in terms of “feminism, violence, and risk” and recreated it with the idea of “video cutting as a type of violence as well.” When asked why she chose to present performances by three women, Hershman replied: “I think she represented everywoman, not just one.” [4]

Another scene, in which a man from the audience approaches the stage and raises the scissors in a threatening gesture (though ultimately lowering his arm and simply cutting her dress) is based on written accounts of a similar event that is said to have occurred during the first performance in Kyoto.

While some of the earlier accounts of Cut Piece performances refer to the audience’s behavior as sexually aggressive, it is not until Barbara Haskell and John G. Hanhardt’s 1991 book, Yoko Ono: Objects and Arias, that Cut Piece is given a specifically feminist reading – and a somewhat qualified feminist reading at that:

Running through much of Ono’s work is a bold commentary on women. Yet far from being strident feminist tracts on the subordination and victimization of women, her pieces achieve power because of their ambiguity; their willingness to forfeit the illusion of politically proper thinking throws responsibility for judgment upon the viewer. [5]

Three years later, though, in Marcia Tanner’s catalogue essay for the 1994 Bad Girls exhibition, the author calls Cut Piece “fiercely feminist in content” and explains:

Ono’s inspiration for Cut Piece was the legend of the Buddha, who had renounced his life of privilege to wander the world, giving whatever was asked of him. His soul achieved supreme enlightenment when he allowed a tiger to devour his body, and Ono saw parallels between the Buddha’s selfless giving and the artist’s. When addressing serious issues – in this case voyeurism, sexual aggression, gender subordination, violation of a woman’s personal space, violence against women – Ono invariably found means to combine dangerous confrontation with poetry, spirituality, personal vulnerability, and edgy laughter. [6]

Within five years, Haskell and Hanhardt’s rather tentative feminist interpretation had become dominant, cropping up regularly in the popular press as well. Cut Piece wasn’t always a feminist statement, however. Cut Piece is an incredibly rich and poetic work that raises questions about the nature of the artist – audience relationship, and in so doing, deliberately offers its performers, audiences, and critics an opportunity to project their own “meaning” into the work.

While Ono clearly has no objections to the feminist readings that currently prevail, her recent comments also suggest that she understands that “hindsight is twentytwenty.” In 1994 interviewer Robert Enright asked her, while discussing one of her films, “Did you think of yourself as a proto – feminist?” She responded: “I didn’t have any notion of feminism. When I went to London and got together with John that was the biggest macho scene imaginable. That’s when I made the statement ‘Woman is the Nigger of the World.’”7 It was 1969 when she made that statement to Nova, a British women’s magazine. And in 1972 she and Lennon would issue a controversial pop single of the same title.

Two years earlier, after she had met Lennon, but before she had “gotten together” with him, she directed a performance of Cut Piece as part of a “happening.” The 14 Hour Technicolour Dream Extravaganza at London’s Alexandra Palace in April 1967 was the epitome of swinging London – and the epitome of the macho scene to which Ono referred. Lennon was in the audience that night, and the band Pink Floyd was also on the bill. A film of the event shows Ono’s then – husband, Tony Cox, presiding over the performance, which featured model Carol Mann. An enormous crowd presses against Mann, who is perched on a large stepladder, wearing granny glasses and smoking a cigarette. In contrast to the solemn air that envelops Ono in her own performances of Cut Piece, the Alexandra Palace performance seems a mob scene – a spectacle. While one would be hard – pressed to present this performance as feminist, Ono clearly accepted authorship of this performance as photographs of this event were used in subsequent publicity for her later concerts.

How, then, did Ono herself talk about Cut Piece when she was first performing it? Discussing the work in a 1967 article in a London underground magazine, Ono told her interviewers: It was a form of giving, giving and taking. It was a kind of criticism against artists, who are always giving what they want to give. I wanted people to take whatever they wanted to, so it was very important to say you can cut wherever you want to. It is a form of giving that has a lot to do with Buddhism. There’s a small allegorical story about Buddha. He left his castle with his wife and children and was walking towards a mountain to go into meditation. As he was walking along, a man said that he wanted Buddha’s children because he wanted to sell them or something. So Buddha gave him his children. Then someone said he wanted Buddha’s wife and he gave him his wife. Someone calls that he is cold, so Buddha gives him his clothes. Finally a tiger comes along and says he wants to eat him and Buddha lets the tiger eat him. And in the moment the tiger eats him, it became enlightened or something. That’s a form of total giving as opposed to reasonable giving like “logically you deserve this” or “I think this is good, therefore I am giving this to you.” [8]

This is the very same story alluded to by Bad Girls author Tanner, above. Yet Tanner characterizes the story as a kind of poetic spirituality in which Ono cloaked her “serious issues,” namely feminist issues.

By 1973 Ono was widely considered a “radical feminist.” Only a year earlier, for example, the record Woman is the Nigger of the World had been greeted with great controversy in the mainstream press. Yet in 1974 she discussed Cut Piece at length in an autobiographical essay written for a Japanese magazine – with no reference at all to feminist politics.

Traditionally, the artist’s ego is in the artist’s work. In other words, the artist must give the artist’s ego to the audience. I had always wanted to produce work without ego in it. I was thinking of this motif more and more, and the result of this was Cut Piece.

Instead of giving the audience what the artist chooses to give, the artist gives what the audience chooses to take. That is to say, you cut and take whatever part you want; that was my feeling about its purpose. I went onto the stage wearing the best suit I had. To think that it would be OK to use the cheapest clothes because it was going to be cut anyway would be wrong; it’s against my intentions.

I was poor at the time, and it was hard. This event I repeated in several different places, and my wardrobe got smaller and smaller. However, when I sat on stage in front of the audience, I felt that this was my genuine contribution. This is how I really felt.

The audience was quiet and still, and I felt that everyone was holding their breath. While I was doing it, I was staring into space. I felt kind of like I was praying. I also felt that I was willingly sacrificing myself. [9]

The idea of giving the audience what it wishes to take is very much bound up with hermeneutics – or reception theory – the idea that it is the viewer as much as the artist who invests a work of art with meaning. Cut Piece’s reception – the meaning with which it is invested – is as varied as its audiences.

One of the earliest reviews of Cut Piece that I have been able to find is of Ono’s second performance of the work in August 1964 in Tokyo. The headline translates as: “The title is ‘Stripping’ – avant – garde musician, Ono Yoko’s recital.” And it continues: In the center of the stage without any props, under the hazy spot light, a woman sits. From their seats, members of the audience ran up onto the stage and started to cut off her clothing with scissors. Soon, the scissors cut even to her underwear. With the theme ‘Stripping,’ it is a scene from Ono Yoko’s recital held at Sogetsu Art Center the other day. [10]

After listing the other works performed, it concludes: “Now, one may say ‘there, the sign of essence was performed’ and bow down his head, and others may say ‘If no sounds were made, give me back my money’ and raise their arms in the air. Anyway, avant – garde music is a mysterious thing.” This anything – but – feminist reading of Cut Piece in the Japanese press can perhaps be better understood when one realizes that another piece on the program, listed in this review as Chair Piece, was actually titled Strip Tease for Three. It involved simply a curtain rising to reveal three empty chairs on the stage and then descending.

In June 1968, however, a similar characterization of Cut Piece – along with a suite of provocative photographs – was presented in the pages of TAB, a New York “gentlemen’s magazine.” With a headline, “The Hippiest Artistic Happening: ‘Step Up and Strip Me Nude,’” the brief article continued:

Though Time magazine called her performance “music of the mind,” and Art and Artists in London described it as “the next logical step,” Yoko Ono’s “art” striptease still seems like a striptease to excited viewers. The difference here is that Yoko, a Japanese lovely now performing on the continent, does not take her clothing off . . . the audience does it for her. Guys who used to sit back and yell “Take it off!” now have the golden opportunity to take it off for her. [11]

Published only weeks prior to the revelation of Ono’s affair with Lennon, the author’s characterization of the artist as a “Japanese lovely” stands in stark contrast to the descriptions of her as “ugly” that would soon predominate.

A canonically feminist work since the 1990s, Cut Piece began its life quite differently. But Ono’s aesthetics of reception accommodate both these readings and many more too numerous to review in these pages. Interpretations of Cut Piece as a feminist work and as a striptease are ultimately at least as revealing of those respective interpreters as they are of the artist who conceived the work. For if Cut Piece is both these things and more, it is foremost a work that challenges our notions of what a work of art is and who actually makes it – a conceptual work.

Curiously, Cut Piece has received considerably more press in the past seventeen years than during the three or four years that Ono initially performed it – all incidentally before her famous liaison with Lennon. And for the most part, this expert opinion has been based on previously published descriptions and photographs. As it turns out, while Ono’s staff had unknowingly informed artist Lynn Hershman otherwise, there is a film of the 1965 Carnegie Recital Hall performance of Cut Piece made by Albert and David Maysles – and others as well. I discovered this film in late 1996 while researching a catalogue essay for Ono’s 1996 FLY exhibition and subsequently found other films as well. While I had screened it at conferences in 1997, its first major public showings occurred within the Out of Actions exhibition at L.A. MoCA in 1998. From this point on, most writers and performers worked from this film document.

As noted earlier, Ono had always intended Cut Piece to be performed by men or women. The first documented male performance of Cut Piece (that I’ve been able to find, anyway) took place in Central Park on September 9, 1966, as part of the Fourth Annual Avant – Garde Festival organized by Charlotte Moorman. Ono had been scheduled to perform Cut Piece, but left suddenly for London and the Destruction in Art Symposium. Ono’s performance had already been publicized though, so Moorman hastily arranged for two men to perform the piece in Ono’s stead. Apparently facing problems with nudity and her parks permit, the performers appeared in large black bags that were cut off instead of their clothing – a conflation of Ono’s Bag Piece and Cut Piece. For what was in all likelihood the first male performance of Cut Piece, then, the performers wore bags, under which they were fully clothed. Due to specifically stated park policy, nudity was prohibited.

The next known male solo performance of Cut Piece was in the fall of 1968, and the performer was Jon Hendricks, then director of the Judson Gallery, and now Ono’s exhibitions manager as well as curator of the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection. Hendricks was a guest instructor for a “Semester in New York” program sponsored by a consortium of Midwest colleges. The students were living at the Paris Hotel, where the course was taught. Hendricks performed Cut Piece as part of their introduction to the course.

I was kind of nervous so I decided to do Cut Piece. I bought a suit at the thrift store, put the scissors down in front of me and explained the work. I saw it as a kind of leveling of the student – teacher relationship and a way of getting into something that was timely in terms of both performance and social issues – the war in Vietnam, riots, and the feeling of some of us against authority in society. And here I was, the authority figure . . . . [12] Hendricks’s performance seems to have been more about challenging the authority of the performer rather than his vulnerability.

Yoko Ono, Cut Piece, 1964. Performed by John Noga on August 29, 2007 at the Akron-Summit County Public Library, Akron, Ohio. Photo: Courtesy Mike Piero

Thus a feminist interpretation of the piece seems to presume a female performer – something never mandated by the artist herself. This in turn likely reflects a commonly held notion that an original performer and an original performance constitute an authentic version of the piece. Curiously, more recent performances by men (Jim Bovino at the Walker Art Center in 2001 and John Noga at the University of Akron in 2007, for example) have more closely kept to Ono’s score. Both Bovino and Noga assumed the seated position indicated in Ono’s instruction and maintained a calm, passive demeanor. Thus performed, the more recent feminist framings seem irrelevant – and the “content” seems more clearly to be the actions of the audience members themselves.

This notion of the “original” performance work that underlies much of the recent interest in performance “reenactment” might well hold true for other performances by other artists, but not of performances encoded in scores – Fluxus or otherwise. Marina Abramović, who recently performed a number of well – known performance works from the 1960s and 1970s at the Guggenheim Museum (Seven Easy Pieces, November 2005), spoke about her own work of the 1970s at a symposium that followed the week of performances: “We never wanted to repeat things . . . . We never even wanted to be photographed. We were pure pure pure.” [13] Curiously, her week of historic performances was made possible by what Nancy Princenthal characterizes as a “radical response.”

By treating the irremediably category – resistant performance form as if it were, say, popular music, and translating “instructions” as “score,” a performance could be re – presented by anyone with the necessary stamina and determination (no small qualifications). If the original artists were credited and paid, the whole messy medium could be brought into the world of copyright and distribution and licensing fees – in a word, into the marketplace. To use another mouthful of a word, it could also, Abramović argues, thereby be brought into the academic discourse of history.” [14]

Of course, this concept of performance score has existed within the Fluxus orbit since at least the early 1960s – the very period at stake in Abramović’s project. More problematic, however, is the idea that new performances provide an object of sorts for art historical study. As demonstrated above, reformulations of Cut Piece have arguably contributed to a distortion of the work, more so than an illumination of it. On the other hand, the nature of Ono’s work seems not merely to allow this, but encourage it. Indeed, one might argue that Cut Piece, more than anything else, exploits the hermeneutic circle among artist, score, performer, audience, and critic.

Readings of Cut Piece as feminist, pacifist, anti – authoritarian, Buddhist, Christian – and even as a striptease – are all valid. The many and varied interpretations of Cut Piece by artist, performers, audiences, and critics testify to the work’s great power – a power embedded in its score. But most importantly, Cut Piece is an incredibly rich and poetic work that poses seldom – asked questions about the nature of art itself and in the process opens itself up to a multitude of readings. To assert that any of its performances or interpretations are definitive denies the work the very multivalence at its core and minimizes the qualities that make it forever vital and alive.

NOTES 1. Dick Higgins, Postface, New York: Something Else Press, 1964, 2.

2. Jennifer Allen, “‘Einmal ist keinmal’: Observations on Reenactment,” in Life, Once More: Forms of Reenactment in Contemporary Art, edited by Sven Lütticken, Rotterdam: Witte de With, Center for Contemporary Art, 2005, 211–13.

3. Dick Higgins, “Fluxus Theory and Reception,” in The Fluxus Reader, New York: Academy Editions, 1998, 230.

4. E – mail correspondence with the author, March 28, 1997.

5. Barbara Haskell and John G. Hanhardt, Yoko Ono: Objects and Arias, Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith, 90.

6. Marcia Tanner, “Mother Laughed: The ‘Bad Girls’ Avant – Garde,” in Bad Girls, New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1994, 61.

7. Robert Enright, “Instructions in the Marital Arts: A Conversation with Yoko Ono,” Border Crossings 13,1 (Winter 1994): 37.

8. Roger Perry and Tony Elliott, “Yoko Ono,” Unit (December 1967): 26–27.

9. Yoko Ono, “If I Don’t Give Birth Now, I Will Never Be Able To,” Just Me! The Very First Autobiographical Essay by the World’s Most Famous Japanese Woman, Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1986, 34–36. This article was originally published in the summer of 1974 in the Japanese magazine, Bungei Shunju, during Ono’s “Yoko Ono and Plastic Ono Super Band: Let’s Have a Dream” tour. This translation was commissioned by the author from Akira Suzuki.

10. “The title is ‘Stripping’ – avant – garde musician, Ono Yoko’s recital,” Shukan Taishu 36,10 (September 1964): 1. This translation was commissioned by the author from Sumie Ota. Thanks to Mikihiko Hori for providing publication details for this previously unidentified press cutting from the artist’s files.

11. “The Hippiest Artistic Happening: ‘Step Up and Strip Me Nude,’” TAB 18,2 (June 1968): 65–68.

12. Jon Hendricks’s personal communication with the author, New York City, February 4, 1998. In a personal communication of June 6, 2001, Hendricks recalled that he was seated in a chair for his performance.

13. Abramović, quoted in Nancy Princenthal, “Back for One Night Only!” Art in America (February 2006): 90.

14. Princenthal, 90.

KEVIN CONCANNON is Associate Professor of Art History at the Myers School of Art at The University of Akron–Ohio. With John Noga, he is curator of Yoko Ono Imagine Peace Featuring John & Yoko’s Year of Peace, currently traveling, and Agency: Art and Advertising, scheduled for September 12 through November 8, 2008 at the McDonough Museum of Art at Youngtown State University.

© 2008 Kevin Concannon

Published in PAJ – A Journal of Performance and Art Sept 90 (2008), pp. 81–93

web.mac.com/kconcan/iWeb/PDFs/2008/CutPiecePAJ.pdf


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6 Responses to Yoko Ono’s CUT PIECE: From Text to Performance and Back Again by Kevin Concannon

  1. […] Chris Burden’s Shoot (1971), John Duncan’s Blind Date (1980), Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece (1964). This episode brings these together along with a discussion of Pania Lincoln and Hadleigh […]

  2. I am working on The Pink Show for December 17th, 2011, which is where I will direct the live art, Cut Piece.

    I just want to be sure everyone is kept up to date with the planning, I had to change the date, orig. was going to be October 22nd. The Tower Theatre is a beautiful and historical theatre located in Fresno, California. The performance will be incorporated it to the show about half way through. I am working on the planning now, and have also recieved some great interest from my daughter’s high school theatre teacher, he said he is very familiar with the act. I am using the act as an awarenss of women’s issues, cancer, domestic violence and any issue that affects a woman. The model for the act will be Amber Frey, know for her involvement in a high profile case, Amber showed great strength for her abiltiy to speak up. I would love to have some recordings from Yoko as well for the background sounds during the performance. I am very excited about this amazing opportunity.

    I will post more as the time nears.
    Thank you!
    Cynthia Manuszak

  3. Hi Yoko,

    The live art will take place October 22nd in the evening at the Tower Theatre; Fresno, California. This will be done during The Pink Show benifit show to raise money for women’s cancer awareness. Thanks so much for your permission and I would absolutely love it if you could attend. We will film the event as well and be promoting our clothing line. The timing is perfect! Also, I wish to speak to you before the show, I have some questions in regards to Cut Piece.

    Thanks!! Cynthia Chapman Manuszak; artist.

  4. Eric Andreasen says:

    I agree with the author’s view of the work. A “feminist” or ANY interpretation of the “meaning” of the work says more about the INTERPRETER than about the work itself. Ono’s explanation of the work seems to resonate with me most strongly and to make the most sense. Giving not what the artist wants to give, but what the AUDIENCE wants to take.

    I think a strictly feminist interpretation of the work is historical revisionism of the worst kind, taking an event and making it conform to a strongly held personal/sociopolitical viewpoint *that the artist never intended* and to present that as the “meaning” of the work as intended by the artist is just WRONG. I believe the work SHOULD be open to personal interpretation, but to posit that personal viewpoint as the meaning *intended by the artist* is dishonest and self-serving.

    “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail”, and feminists, I believe, undermine their cause when they try to fit everything into their narrowly focused framework. “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”. Indeed.

    I consider myself strongly pro-woman, and more importantly, pro-people (why get into the “us against them” mindset?), but when men become the convenient scapegoat for all of womankind’s ills, it really seems that it is more about “me-ism” than true feminism. The more “hatred of men” is expressed and the less “love and equality for ALL man and womankind”, the more I see personal issues at play instead of a true desire for equal rights. Were Ghandi and the Buddha “haters”? No, but they WERE very effective agents for social change. Hate is the small, selfish way. Love is the large, selfless way.

  5. I am so touched by this live art performance I could scream…I hope that we do it justice as our re-performance in October. I would appreciate any input from Yoko and hold the highest respect for her and all the art she has created over the years. I am grateful for her insight to the world of art and artists.
    Cynthia

  6. Cynthia Manuszak says:

    Yoko. I want to do another live performance of Cut Piece. May I? CYNTHIA

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