Yoko Ono to speak at Stanford
By Cynthia Haven, Stanford Report, 19 December 2009
John Lennon once called her “the world’s most famous unknown artist:
Everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does.”
Avant-garde artist, musician and activist Yoko Ono, Lennon’s widow, will
be visiting campus Jan. 14 to give a lecture, “Passages for Light,” at 7
p.m. in Dinkelspiel Auditorium. The lecture is open and free to Stanford
students, faculty and staff with a current Stanford ID.
An interactive installation of Ono’s Wish Tree will occur on the
Stanford campus at a time and place to be announced. A component of many
of her exhibitions, Wish Tree invites participants to write their wishes
on pieces of paper and hang them on the branches of a tree. The wishes
are buried at the foot of Imagine Peace Tower, an installation located
off the coast of Reykjavík, Iceland, consisting of a column of light
projected 30 meters into the sky.
A panel discussion on Ono’s body of work, featuring Stanford faculty,
will be held Jan. 12, also at a location and time to be announced.
The events are sponsored by the Stanford Institute for Creativity and
the Arts in collaboration with history Professor Gordon H. Chang and the
Asian American Art Project.
Ono was born in Tokyo to an upper-crust family of Japanese bankers in
1933. (Her father was descended from a long line of samurai
warrior-scholars; her maternal grandfather had been ennobled in 1915).
Her father’s transfer to San Francisco and later New York meant that Ono
was reared bilingually, and has roots in America as well as Japan.
“The first time I visited America was when I was two-and-a-half years
old, and that was also the first time I met my father,” she said in the
Soho News. “I remember the Golden Gate Bridge, it was beautiful.”
Returning to Japan in 1937 as anti-Japanese sentiment was on the rise
after the invasion of China, she attended the Gakush?in Academy, open
only to members of the imperial family or the House of Peers. The
emperor’s two sons attended, and after the war the younger son became a
friend, perhaps her first fan. After a period in New York, where she
attended a public school on Long Island, her father was transferred to
Hanoi. Yoko returned with her mother and siblings to Tokyo.
She survived the bombing of Tokyo and the great fire raid of 1945 in the
Ono family bunker. After the all-night air raid of March 9-10, which
killed 100,000 people and reduced 17 square miles of the city to ashes,
the family left for the countryside. Her father was incarcerated in a
prisoner-of-war camp in China.
Ono’s family was destitute and hungry, forced to barter and beg for food
while pulling their belongings in a wheelbarrow. Ono and her brother
were resented by their peers for their former wealth and status. She
credits these traumas for her steely defiance and “outsider” role.
In 1952, she was the first woman to be accepted into the philosophy
program of the exclusive Gakush?in University and, following her
family’s relocation to New York, attended Sarah Lawrence College.
However, the devastation of war, and the social disintegration and
degradations of life in occupied Japan, spawned a whole generation of
pacifists. Ono came of age in the postwar years, when cutting-edge
artists blended a cerebral anti-intellectualism, Zen, Western
existentialism and war-weary pacifism with some distinctive elements of
“Yoko Ono was the prophetess who, with the help of John Lennon, brought
the amalgam to a West at long last ready to reconsider its own values,”
said Murray Sayle, writing for the Japan Policy Research Institute in
With composer Toshi Ichiyanagi, whom she married in 1956, she began to
create “instructional art”—for example, Painting to Be Stepped On, in
which an empty canvas on the ground or street is stepped on by
passersby. With LaMonte Young, recognized as the first minimalist
performer, the couple staged a six-month series of musical “loft events”
that got the attention of the blasé New York art world. At one, Ono set
a painting on fire; fortunately, her mentor and colleague, American
composer John Cage, had advised her to treat the paper with a flame
Her later appearance at Carnegie Recital Hall, with a performance in
which someone was assigned to flush a wired-for-sound toilet, was not
favorably reviewed in the New York Times and the Village Voice. In
Japan, she toured with Cage to mixed reviews.
In addition to Cage, her early work in the 1960s drew upon her
involvement with artists such as Merce Cunningham, Ornette Coleman and
After the collapse of her marriage and a suicide attempt, Ono’s family
committed her to a mental institution. A fiery marriage with film
producer Anthony Cox, who was instrumental in getting her release, led
to the birth of her daughter, Kyoko Chan Cox, in 1963. Cox abducted the
8-year-old daughter following her break-up and custody battle. Cox went
into hiding with the child; mother and daughter were not reunited until
In 1965, again at Carnegie Recital Hall, Ono performed Cut Piece, an
interactive performance during which she sat on the stage with a pair of
scissors, allowing audience members to come onstage and cut pieces of
her clothing. Ono herself claimed to have performed Cut Piece in the
name of “peace, and against ageism, racism and sexism.”
The performance, which is available online, became legendary. In one
case, the audience became so violent about getting a piece of her
clothing that she had to be protected by security.
In London, her work received critical praise (the Financial Times called
it “uplifting”)—the kind of attention that eventually drew Lennon to the
Indica Gallery, where she had an exhibition in 1966. Their affair and
subsequent marriage led to her becoming one of the most widely vilified
celebrities of the pop and rock scene. She was credited as being the
woman who broke up The Beatles.
Her music has influenced many artists, including Meredith Monk and Lene
Lovich, and inspired such musical genres as punk and new wave. Her
conceptual and performance art, as well as her filmmaking, is considered
original and groundbreaking.
Yes Yoko Ono, a 40-year retrospective of Ono’s work, received the
prestigious 2001 International Association of Art Critics USA Award for
Best Museum Show Originating in New York City.
In 2003, the 70-year-old icon reprised Cut Piece in Paris. By allowing
strangers to approach her with scissors, Ono told CBS News that she
hoped to show that this is “a time where we need to trust each other.”
“Following the political changes through the year after 9/11, I felt
terribly vulnerable—like the most delicate wind could bring me tears,”
Ono wrote in a presentation for the show. “‘Cut Piece is my hope for
Tickets for “Passages for Light” will be limited to two per Stanford ID
and available through Stanford Ticket Office located at Tresidder Union,
beginning Jan. 7. Tickets must be picked up in person.
YOKO ONO LIVE: PASSAGES FOR LIGHT
Yoko Ono will be visiting the Stanford campus on January 14, 2009.
During her visit, she will be giving a lecture, “Passages for Light,” which is
free for all members of the Stanford community (with current Stanford ID).
A panel discussion will occur before Yoko’s lecture, on Monday 12 January 2009.
Also, visit White Plaza to participate in the Wish Tree installation.
Presented by the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts (SiCa).
7:00 PM, Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Dinkelspiel Auditorium, Stanford University
Free, tickets available to Stanford community ONLY
Not open to the public
Two tickets per Stanford ID.
Tickets are available at the Stanford Ticket Office starting January 9, 2009.
This event is not open to the public.
Stanford University. 450 Serra Mall, Stanford, California 94305.
tel: (650) 723-2300
“Passages for Light” documents two of Yoko Ono’s current projects involving light:
ONOCHORD, and the IMAGINE PEACE TOWER.
The “Passages for Light” lecture is free for all members of the Stanford community
(with current Stanford ID). Tickets will be limited and available through Stanford
Ticket Office starting January 7, 2009. You must come in person to pick up your
tickets. This event is not open to the public.
Dinkelspiel Auditorium is located on the Stanford University campus at 471
Lagunita Drive, adjacent to Tresidder Union. Parking on campus is free of charge
after 4:00 p.m., and may be found in the lot off Lagunita Drive near Tresidder
Memorial Union and on Abbott Way.
Yoko Ono: Then and Now
Mark Gonnerman, Pamela M. Lee, and Peggy Phelan
12:00 PM, Monday, January 12, 2009
Tresidder Oak West Lounge
Free and open to the public
Gordon H. Chang will be moderating a panel on the works of Yoko Ono with Mark
Gonnerman, Pamela M. Lee, and Peggy Phelan. Yoko Ono will not be present at the panel.
John Lennon Educational Tour Bus
January 11 – 12, 2009
Next to the Stanford Bookstore in White Plaza
The JOHN LENNON EDUCATIONAL TOUR BUS is a non-profit 501(c)(3) mobile
audio and HD video recording and production facility. Since 1998, the Bus has provided
free hands-on programs to hundreds of high schools, colleges, Boys and Girls Clubs,
music festivals, concerts, conventions and community organizations. Working together
with some of the biggest names in music, the Lennon Bus encourages students to play
music, write songs, engineer recording sessions and produce video projects using the
latest audio, video, and live sound equipment.
Look for two Wish Tree installations on campus!
Tresidder Union and White Plaza (at the Stanford Bookstore)
Monday – Friday, January 12-16, 2009
Yoko Ono’s interactive WISH TREE installation has been ancillary to many of her
exhibitions over the years. Participants are invited to write their wishes on pieces of paper
and hang them on the branches of a tree. The wishes are to be buried at the foot of the
IMAGINE PEACE TOWER.