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London
Yoko Ono
Serpentine Gallery
Kensington Gardens, London W2 3XA, United Kingdom
June 19, 2012 - September 9, 2012


Yoko, Oh No - a conversation with Philippa Snow and Charlotte Jansen
by Philippa Snow


3:56 PM, Philippa Snow wrote:

I read Adrian Searle's review of the show yesterday, and, as usual, he has expressed my views far more succinctly and in a far funnier way than I could have hoped to, but I soldier on regardless.

4:30 PM, Charlotte Jansen wrote:

What the Guardian dude? I'm in two minds about reading before seeing, especially where Yoko is concerned... Isn't she a bit 'shit sleb'?

4:32 PM, Philippa Snow wrote:

Yeah, that's him. I have to say, the last thing I wanted was to write her off as a 'shit celeb,' because I hate it when people talk about 'muses' or attribute a woman's success to her partner, but...well, I was underwhelmed by the majority of it.

4:41 PM, Charlotte Jansen wrote:

Ha, yes.

That #smilesface thing is particularly gimmicky. I don't think I'm alone in feeling i don't get her work am i? It's the kind of thing that alienates people from the art world.

4:50 PM, Philippa Snow wrote:

I find myself alienated by the boundless optimism - all these aphorisms about love and peace, and all that groovy prozac dopamine nonsense; even when there's a darker motif, it's presented coyly - the soldier's helmet with the sky-patterned jigsaw; the bronze stiletto with the painted-on blood. I don't feel that I'm taking anything away from it, particularly. War is terrible, yes - on that front, Ono and I, and most of humanity, are in agreement. But I haven't time for all that reductive loveliness.

And I rarely appreciate being told to smile, whether in a gallery, or walking past a building site.

5:27 PM Charlotte Jansen wrote:

I just can't not think 'John Lennon'… It’s just the second thing you think when you hear her name. Unpacking Yoko the pop culture myth from the art is hard.

I don't really get an impression of this thing about her 'poetic essentialism'.

I feel suffocated by the self-styled woman that Ono is, her break away from the Fluxus group to define herself as an individual artist, the champagne bohemian feel of it all.

What did you make of the works in To the Light ?

Yoko Ono, FLY, 1970, Directed by Yoko Ono, Film still; © Yoko Ono.

8:11 PM, Philippa Snow wrote:

The problem is that I feel churlish for taking issue with many of the works that are on show - the homogenous white chess set, for instance, has a well-meaning point to make (likewise, the three heaps of earth, listed as having diverse origins), but it isnt a point of any greater complexity than is made in, say, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney's Ebony and Ivory.

The text pieces, actually (the invisible room, and so on), do make me think of song lyrics more than artworks; after I got home from viewing the show in fact, I was listening to Cosmic Dancer by T.Rex, and one of the couplets in particular ("what's it like to be alone/I liken it to a balloon") made me think of that same brand of naive, quasi-spiritual quotation: esoteric whimsy as a means of telegraphing greater meaning. It would be remiss to ignore the influence of the haiku on Ono's use of language - and by extension, of her Japanese heritage - but there's definitely something pop there - a pop language, if you like, which is more distinctive than English or Japanese. A linguistic all-white chess set.

I did enjoy the Fly film, which she made, I think, with Lennon - the transition from the delicacy of the single fly to the slaughterhouse swarm on the woman's body was an interesting (if familiar) gesture. I also liked A Thousand Years best out of the works at Hirst's retrospective, so there's a lesson there, I suppose, for any artists reading: flies.

(I thought about putting a fatuous wish on the horribly-titled "whimsy tree", but I decided against it, in the end.)

10:28 AM, Charlotte Jansen wrote:

Lol

The point about the haiku influence on Ono's work is a really interesting one, I hadn’t considered until now and it makes a lot of sense.

I think the thing is with the work is that the meaning is often obfuscated by the illusion of something complexly abstract or conceptual. Michael Wilson makes a valid point in reference to the Whitney show, that it is often at first difficult to know at first what you're looking at with Ono's art. The way her objects relate to audience I would agree has much more to do with the way music is experienced - but without the good part, i.e. the sound...

Going back to what you were saying before, I think the interplay between black and white is something Ono approaches effectively. The light/dark dichotomy is a kind of leit motif, and this exhibition's key concerns – or at least, I feel it starts to touch on this before it descends into being a 'celebratory retrospective' of her enormous impact on contemporary art etc etc....

11:31 AM, Philippa Snow wrote:

I wonder, perhaps, if the fascination with black and white, or, as you say, "the dark and light dichotomy" isn't part of the problem. Ono has stayed fairly true to her artistic vision since the sixties, and certainly, I think that what might appear to the viewer as sentimentality is sincerity on her part: we are a different people, however, from those we were a half-century ago, and it's possible that things have changed enough that these musings, with their faux-naif hopefulness, no longer feel like a viable fit. Considering things in black and white - in good and evil, and so on - feels like a relic of ancient history: so, too, to a certain degree, does imagining dove-white "goodness" at all.

The perspex maze (Amaze - that title!) is a good example of a one-line resolution to an oversimplified universal problem - our reward for navigating it is to gaze at our own reflection; a fairly trite point about "looking within." I found myself far too neurotic to enter, for fear of inducing a panic attack, or of walking loudly into the walls and making an absolute ass of myself. Is that a starkly 2012 response - cautious, mistrustful, and psychoneurotic? Should I have approached it, instead, from a right-on early-seventies angle of zen? The more I talk about the work, the more a theory is forming that perhaps Yoko Ono is right, and that I am simply a terrible fit for the better aspects of happy humanity...

Yoko Ono, TO THE LIGHT, installation view, Serpentine Gallery, London; © 2012 Jerry Hardman-Jones.

11:44 AM, Charlotte Jansen wrote:

Certainly... but shouldn't artists take into account that audiences have changed, not least to say the problems we face and how we combat them... There is something too Manichean about her work, I think it was McCartney who said that Ono was 'more determined to be herself' than most people, there's an inescapable sense of her vision, her way, her solution to the world's problems, that's being forced upon us - whether it be in this physical way, of 'observer becomes observed' or more subliminally.

For me you hit on the head - she's stuck in 70s, man.

11:57 AM, Philippa Snow

Yes, and the solutions, unfortunately, aren't real solutions.

I think the problem is that for Ono to change is for her to admit defeat: she has been offering us these same strategies for, as I said, almost half a century, and yet, thus far, they have proven useless. "War is over - if you want it" - but we don't - we demonstratably don't - and yet we are still going to war.

Perhaps, if she is to continue repeating the messages of earlier works in the context of the 21st century, she could do worse than being inspired by "FIlm 04 (Bottoms)." I hear bottoms are still fairly popular in the internet age.

(Image on top: Yoko Ono, Smile, 2010; © Yoko Ono)



Posted by Philippa Snow on 7/9/12

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