Yoko Ono may be better known as John Lennon’s missus and the girl who “broke up The Beatles” but it’s easy to forget that she is an artist and has been since long before she met the man “more famous than Jesus.” Is she really just a name made relevant by association to one of our nation’s most famous martyrs? Or does her work stand alone, surviving in its own right in the confusing world of conceptual art where so many have failed?
Ono’s exhibition is currently held in The Serpentine Gallery which is relatively hidden away in the greenery of London’s Hyde Park. The display exhibits her pieces ranging from her early art in the mid 60’s to her more contemporary works. Entrance is free which suggests low value, as the Tate Modern charges around £15 per head for their special installations, but this simply is not the case.
The first room opens the exhibition with three simple mounds of dirt. Each has been extracted from a country at war, although the countries are unspecified. The mounds are almost identical which seems to poke fun at the absurdity of a nation’s boarders and the importance placed on their ownership. The fact that the origins of the piles of earth remain a mystery, labelled simply as A, B and C, decreases their importance and adds to the humour of the piece.
WW2 Helmets hang from the ceiling beside the mounds. It seems that in John’s absence Yoko has carried their common anti-war campaign on her own shoulders, reaching out to the world through her art, as Lennon did through his music. Within the helmets are pieces of sky broken up in to a jigsaw which suggest hope that although war may be breaking the world it can still be pieced back together if we have the inclination.
The exhibit hosts a mixture of playfulness with some darker elements. Cut Piece spans across decades of Ono’s career. Two screens face one another in a private room. Both show Yoko Ono sitting in a chair quietly as she invites the audience to remove her clothing, cutting it away piece by piece with sharp scissors. One screen shows a younger Yoko with the original set in 1964, the other, much more contemporary in 2001. Past and present stare blankly at one another as the artist becomes the art and is gradually revealed, implying strong connotations of sexual violence.
The centrepiece of the exhibit is AMAZE which is, you guessed it, a maze. This is a fun, interactive piece where visitors of the gallery are invited to find their way to the centre of the transparent walls. Easier said than done. Invisible dead ends are not revealed until touched and paths are often revisited. Claustrophobics would do well to steer clear and laugh at the lost souls as they fumble within their deceptive confines.
Just before the exit you find a large white room, with a white desk, and white chair. The only colour visible is found outside of the floor to ceiling windows that run along the far wall, letting in light that gleams against the floor. Here, art lovers are encouraged to write pretty much anything they want on the pieces of paper provided. Each day the pieces of paper are sent off to the artist, although what she will do with them remains a mystery. There was something thoughtful about this. So much art is made to be admired as an outsider, to passively adore the creator, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But to be encouraged to create something of your own, to reach within yourself and draw out whatever might lay dormant is very different experience. For many a chance to connect with the artist was a thrill in itself.
I’m not sure what I was expecting from the Yoko Ono exhibition but I was happy with that I received. Ono understands that while messages of anti-war and public awareness are important, the main goal of humanity must be smiles and interactivity delights the child in all of us.