Now back in Berkeley, fully caffeinated with an appropriate number of cats "assisting" me, I want to step back a couple of days and revisit Friday, Day 3 of the College Art Association in Dallas. In particular, I want to try to describe the experience of seeing Yoko Ono.
I'll start by saying I've always loved Ono's artwork. The sense of outreach, of inclusion, was a huge hook for me; her works always make you, the viewer, not just an audience but a co-creator—sometimes in a sly way, sometimes more overtly. This is, of course, a core principle of the movement that came to be called Fluxus, of which Ono was a central figure along with John Cage, Joseph Beuys, Allen Kaprow, and many others. But rather that mosey off on an art history tangent, I want to take a more personally meaningful one. On Friday afternoon, I got to be in the same room with Yoko Ono, and it was nothing short of a spiritual experience for me.
I was about two-thirds of the way back in an enormous ballroom that was packed to standing room by those of us who had come to hear her. She graciously came to Dallas to accept an award from CAA for her "Lifetime Body of Work," and to participate in a traditional post-award interview, but the atmosphere was more like that of a rock concert. When she came out onto the stage, I was struck by how tiny she is--an incredibly petite figure in black pants, black hat, dark glasses and a bright red jacket. The only camera I had with me was my pathetic cell phone camera, yet I got this picture of her, which I think is incredibly representative: she's a very small woman with an almost impossibly large spirit.
I can't adequately describe this experience; after writing and re-writing this blog entry many times, it seemed too journalistic (well, I was a journalist for 10 years, so don't hate me for that, it's kind of second nature at this point), but worse, it sounds trite. This was anything except a trite experience, and all I can do is say that.
Her capacity to give profound answers to mundane questions was astonishing. She discussed her early years as an artist, and the "naming" of Fluxus. The interviewer noted, "You were a very young artist at that time, weren't you?" and Yoko turned thoughtful for a moment, then replied "I know I am 75 years old, because you all keep telling me I am. But I have no sense of being 75, I only have a sense of being me. It is the same sense of being me that I have always had. So if you were to tell me I was a very young artist then, I would be surprised!"
Her conversation, comments and work shared with us that afternoon struck me like pure love with an optimism so strong that it was irresistable. She brought gifts for us all, to include us in two of her ongoing projects. The first, "Onochord," asks us all to participate in "covering the world with love" in order to save it. We all got a tiny penlight and a postcard with the Onochord poem and sequence to use to make our lights say "I love you," over and over again, as often as we can, to everyone we can, from everywhere we can. She showed a brief video of the project being introduced in large arenas all over the world, to a soundtrack of "Give Peace a Chance." Within a few seconds, the whole conference audience was flashing their penlights at Yoko and each other, whispering with delight; Yoko had her own penlight and flashed back at us. I held mine as high as I could and sent her a heart-felt "I Love You," and in return I felt her light hit my face and flash back the same message.
She talks about her family and friends with great affection, talks about John Lennon with enormous love in her voice as if she just left him in the other room. She is energetic and bright and profound without any thought to it at all. She is modest and playful and funny and so optimistic ...
Which brings me to our other gift, the second art project. The other gift is a shard of a shattered enormous Japanese vase. She brought the pieces out in a large box and tumbled them out onto the edge of the stage, and invited everyone to come up and take one. "In ten years," she said, "we'll all get together again and we'll reassemble the vase."
Ten years, meet Yoko. I have it on my calendar, I'll be there. And I have every faith that Yoko will be there too, one way or another.