Yoko Ono

1968 Interview with Tony Elliot, from Time Out Magazine

Yoko Ono: a reputation as diffuse and diverse as the things she does. She will be remembered by most for her 'bottoms' film, cherished by others for her kite flying or her 'Painting to let the evening light go through'. Like a bee she never rests in one place, disseminating her pollen, nurturing the conception of her ideas and attitudes in others before flying elsewhere to begin again.

Her biography runs as follows:

Born: bird year

Early childhood: collected skies

Adolescence: gave birth to a grapefruit, collected snails, clouds, garbage, cans etc. Have graduated many schools specialising in these subjects.

At present: travelling as a private lecturer of the above subjects and others; recipient of Hal Kaplow Award. She is a composer, artist, poet, creator of events and philosopher. She has made films; thirty minute studies of the striking of a match, the blinking of an eye, the movement of a smile. 'Number four' was about bottoms.

Her works include an all white chess set and 'A painting to be stepped on'. She has had various exhibitions with exhibits including an unfinished painting added to by each visitor and a totally white room called 'The Blue Room Event'. Recently she held a thirteen-day-long dance festival, taking place 'in your mind'.

'People think that I'm doing something shocking and ask me if I'm trying to shock people. The most shocking thing to me is that people have war, fight with each other and moreover take it for granted. The kind of thing I'm doing is almost too simple. I'm not interested in being unique or different. Everyone is different. No two persons have the same mouth shape for example, and so without making any effort we're all different. The problem is not how to become different or unique, but how to share an experience, how to be the same almost, how to communicate.

'Basically I am interested in communication and therefore participation of everybody. I'm just part of the participation and the thing to participate should be basically a mind sort of thing. I can express it in any medium, just as you use water in everything for cooking.

'I'm on the stage usually and asking people to come and fly or something. I don't fly. I'm just sitting there and watching them fly. I might bring out huge very high ladders and ask people to fly off them. They can jump off the middle, they don't have to go from the top. Part of my pieces is imaginary. There are many people who don't actually jump off, but they do so in a way, because they see the ladder and see themselves go up there and jump off.

'All my pieces are white because I think that white is the only colour that allows imaginary colour to be put on. In the Lisson Gallery I'm going to have a one room environment that's called 'The Blue Room Event'. The room is completely white and you're supposed to stay in the room until it becomes blue.

'I consider my shows, and especially this one, like giving an elephant's tail. When a blind man says "what's an elephant", you lead the man to an elephant and let him grasp the tail and say "that's an elephant". The existing material in the gallery is like an elephant's tail and the larger part is in your mind. But you have to give a tail to lead into it. The thing is to promote a physical participation that will lead you into this larger area of mind.

'I think that art is good just as anything is good in a sense that it's better if anything happens than nothing. So what I'm trying to do is make something happen by throwing a pebble into the water and creating ripples. It's like starting a good motion. I don't want to control the ripples and everything.

'When I made the bottoms film, people said why don't you make one where you not only make them walk but run as well, or include the part where they take off their pants. These are good variations. But I have so many ideas that I can't afford to get hung up on variations. All I do is give an elephant's tail, the inkling of the thing, the basic format, and then after that people can do it themselves. My things tend to be just basic. Somehow I feel the natural trend today is not to be just basic, but decorative as well. I have friends where everything is rainbow coloured and when they come here they ask why everything is white.

'The white chess set is a sort of life situation. Life is not all black and white, you don't know what is yours and what is theirs. You have to convince people what is yours. In the chess situation it is simple if you are black then black is yours. But this is like a life situation, where you have to play it by convincing each other.'

'Cut Piece' a Yoko Ono event - involved an audience who cut off pieces of Yoko's clothing while she sat calmly on stage. '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."

'There was an event that I did for a programme on Japanese television. I just went out into the street and gave away flowers. They thought it was pretty stupid. The other happening makers on the programme did very surrealistic, fantastic dramatic things, "very meaningful" things and there I was just giving out flowers.

'The happening is like a theatrical thing, where you use people to do things that are like abstract theatre and that have nothing to do with spontaneity and experience. A good example is an event I did in New York, where people had to get into a small bag, take their clothes off inside and contemplate. There was this very beautiful dancer, who was in a very in-crowd, and who was very used to doing happenings and things like that. She went into the room and in just two minutes dashed out and said 'I did get into the bag and I thought of taking my clothes off. Then I suddenly realized that there was no point in taking my clothes off because no-one would see me anyway'. So in a happening you're always being an exhibitionist in a way. That's typical of a happening maker because she didn't have that personal urge.

'I'm very social conscious. when I make a painting I just don't want to leave it at home. I think it has to evade all the phases of life. The ultimate goal for me is a situation in this society, where ordinary housewives visiting each other and waiting in the living room will say, "I was just adding some circles to your beautiful de Kooning painting", or "I was just adding some colour to your Peter Blake." There's this strange false value that people create on art work. Art should be almost free like water and light.

'Television was going to do something on the dance festival. I went there and said that the first instruction is breathing. Breathe and do it in any way you want to. The television people got very upset. They wanted something more visual.

'If anybody wrote in, they just sent some flowers. Others thought I got a lot of pounds out of it. I received letters saying that they didn't mind if I was an eccentric, but would I keep it to myself and not ask a pound for my nonsense? I'm not asking for a pound even. Flowerwise a pound's worth of flowers could mean just one flower. The point is that it is very nice to do the thing together. I usually wake up at dawn just to watch the sky or breathe. This time, I thought maybe some other people are breathing with me. It goes on to the thirteenth day and the instruction is then that you're the best. I just can't wait until the thirteenth day comes.

'I think that gradually many of the hippies will turn their backs on me. I don't believe in limited turning on like LSD. They think that's the only turning on there is. I believe that there are ways of turning on like walking barefoot in the park or dancing in the wind. 'This swinging age is now in its beginning stage, like in jazz where you had hot and cool jazz. The hot jazz first and then the cool jazz. It's terribly hot now and I hope it will soon cool off. That's the way I want to go. I am dealing with the age I hope will come.'