Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono (1933 – present)

“Fluxus is Fluxus. Fluxus is what you make of it”

– Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono is a Japanese-American artist who was born in Tokyo in 1933; she moved to New York at the age of 18 where she was enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College. It was here that she started creating her ‘Instructional Pieces’.

By the end of 1960, Ono and La Monte Young began organising performances of burgeoning avant-garde artists at her Chamber street loft. These performances captured the attention of Maciunas the opportunity to exhibit her ‘Instruction Paintings’ – which took on the same format as the Fluxus event scores – at the AG Gallery in 1961 after which Fluxus was born.

Yoko Ono was admired by Maciunas and he enthusiastically promoted her work. He gave Ono her first solo exhibition at his AG Gallery in New York in 1961. Although she didn’t actually join the Fluxus group, she collaborated over many years with him, George Brecht, Charlotte Moorman and others associated with the group.

One of Ono’s most famous works is Cut Piece (1965) in which members of the audience are asked to cut off pieces of her clothes to take with them:

​​“People went on cutting the parts they do not like of me finally there was only the stone remained of me that was in me but they were still not satisfied and wanted to know what it’s like in the stone.”

– Yoko Ono
Cut Piece

Here is Arthur C. Danto’s description of three of her works:

“Her masterpiece is Cut Piece, a performance enacted by her on several occasions, including at Carnegie Recital Hall in 1965. Ono sits impassively on the stage, like a beautiful resigned martyr, while the audience is invited to come and cut away a piece of her clothing. One by one, they mount the stage… and cut off part of what she is wearing. One of the cutters is a man, who cuts the shoulder straps on her undergarment. The artist raises her hands to protect her breasts, but does nothing to stop the action. Ideally the cutting continues until she is stripped bare…”

“At the Indica Gallery, Ono exhibited Painting to Hammer a Nail. A small panel hung high on the wall, with a hammer hanging from its lower left corner. Beneath it was a chair, with–I believe–a small container of nails. If you wanted to comply with the implicit instructions, you took a nail, mounted the somewhat rickety chair, grasped the hammer and drove the nail in. At the opening, Ono recalls, ‘A person came and asked if it was alright to hammer a nail in the painting. I said it was alright if he pays 5 shillings. Instead of paying the 5 shillings, he asked if it was alright to hammer an imaginary nail in. That was John Lennon. I thought, so I met a guy who plays the same game I played.’ Lennon said, ‘And that’s when we really met. That’s when we locked eyes and she got it and I got it and, as they say in all the interviews we do, the rest is history.’”

Danto also describes a film collaboration by Ono and Lennon, Fly (1970): it “shows a housefly exploring the naked body of a young woman who lies immobile as the fly moves in and out of the crevices of her body, or moves its forelegs, surmounting one of her nipples. The soundtrack is uncanny, and we do not know if it is the voice of the fly, the suppressed voice of the woman or the weeping voice of an outside witness to what feels like–what is–a sexual violation. It is like the voiced agony of a woman with her tongue cut out. The sounds are like no others I have heard. Yoko Ono is a highly trained musician who gave her first concert at 4 and who sang opera and lieder when she was young. But she is also a disciple of Cage and an avant-garde singer who uses verbal sobs, damped screams, deflected pleas, to convey the feeling of bodily invasion.”