Saturday 8 June 2024

Ono? Oh yes

The young woman opened her bag and took out an orange with an almost perfectly formed circle of peel missing.  The flesh beneath remained untouched, still encased in its pithy tissue.  The woman took one bite, not of the fruit, but of the peel only, pulling a small section away with her teeth and chewing it, swallowing it.  She then put the orange back in her bag.

It felt as if my afternoon of conceptual art had begun there and then, on the train to London, sitting next to this passenger with her penchant for orange peel.  (I've never seen anyone do that before, have you?)  Following that I was party to one half of a phone conversation in which the caller, seated opposite me, unashamedly declared her admiration for none other than the odious Nigel Farage.  She looked and sounded not unlike Waynetta Slob, and was excited to share her self-proclaimed brilliant and feasible idea that Farage and Starmer could collaborate and "run the country together, as they'd probably get on".  See what I mean - conceptual art, surely?!

But on to the real thing...  I was on that train to London earlier this week to meet my lovely cousin and we'd decided to visit the Yoko Ono exhibition, 'Music Of The Mind', at Tate Modern. 

I knew very little about Yoko Ono's art until now, having only really scratched the surface (the 'Cut Piece' film, the footage of  her and John's honeymoon 'Bed-In', and her vocal improvisations with the Plastic Ono Band) but came away with a mind full of her various playful, political, thought-provoking and dreamlike ideas.  There are lots of interactive elements to this exhibition too - some lovely ways for you to leave your own mark on it, literally (a favourite of mine being Shadow Piece, a white wall onto which a bright light casts your shadow, so you can draw around it with a nice chunk of graphite.  Now several months into the show, the wall is covered in a beautiful tangled mass of curving pencil lines, and it feels special to be one of its many contributors). Or you can hammer a nail into a wall - as long as you're prepared for the trade-off to be a hair from your head.  Why? I hear you ask - ah, so you can be a part of this...


Hammer a nail into a mirror, a piece of
glass, a canvas, wood or metal every
morning.  Also, pick up a hair that came
off when you combed in the morning and
tie it around the hammered nail. The
painting ends when the surface is covered
with nails.

1961 winter

Some might say it's a load of arty-farty bollocks, I know.  I may have done once too.  But when you enter this exhibition, if you keep your mind open, and then maybe stretch it open even further, you can just enjoy a chance to think in a different way for a while.  Yoko Ono's way.   I think this is perhaps no better exemplified than in her 'Instructions' pieces, like the one above.  Simply presented in both typewritten English and  tiny handwritten Japanese characters, to me these really sum up the Conceptual Art movement, where the concept itself is the art, rather than a realisation of it. It kind of messes with my head but - it feels good, like discovering a secret chamber somewhere deep in my mind, I'm sure I might find some treasures in there I didn't know I had.    I found these pieces inspiring, sometimes funny, often philosophical, and I'm sure I'm not alone in wanting to try a few out.  Maybe like this mischievous one? 


Bandage any part of your body.
If people ask about it, make a story
and tell.
If people do not ask about it, remind
them of it and keep telling.
Do not talk about anything else.

1962 summer

Or maybe not...


Use your blood to paint.
Keep painting until you faint (a)
Keep painting until you die (b)

1960 spring

There are many more moving, serious installations too.  A single gunshot hole in a piece of glass with an invitation to go to the other side and see through it needs no further explanation.  Everything here seemed to have an element of hope about it, though.  It was also great to see some lovely early photos, film, fascinating ephemera, music with various collaborators too (a John Cage piece did wonders for my tinnitus) and even - brace yourself - some 'actual' drawings too, in the form of Yoko's pleasingly delicate pen and ink images, which I really like (apologies for poor quality photos):

Yoko Ono was 91 this year and has been creating and performing for seven decades, how on earth do you cover everything?  I don't know, but I'm glad to have seen this comprehensive selection while she's still around, and a lot of it will stay in my mind for some time, which I wasn't necessarily expecting.  

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