I follow Yoko Ono on Instagram. What she’s posted recently is a photo of her in a restaurant to which she went with a friend after having been down with a terrible flu for a long time. As she says, she could finally go out to eat something refreshing, but what we see in front of her is just a glass of water. I’ve always been wondering what an artist such as Ono – using food only as the concept for her work – may actually eat. The artist, who creates conceptual art that is dematerialized and post-object, exposing not a work itself – be it a painting or a sculpture – but an intellectual process behind it, has to eat something with no consistency or weight. Is it only an idea? Is it just a pure concept? Is it only water? That’s possible.
Ono, known as an avant-garde artist in the 1960s, creates works that transcend the white cube of a gallery and filter in the sphere of everyday life by incorporating various media and focusing on partnership. It’s all visible in the instructions she leaves for the audience: discreet, whispered notes on how to make a tuna sandwich properly or other pieces of advice such as: “Carry a bag of peas. Leave a pea wherever you go”. They’re minimalistic, at times funny, and in the spirit of Zen.
Tunafish Sandwich Piece. 1964
"Pea Piece", presented to the public and the critics as a series of performances taking place in the artist’s loft, stems from a traditional Japanese ritual called mamemaki. The ritual is part of the Japanese Spring Festival celebrated at the beginning of February. The performances at Ono’s place consisted in tossing peas at the audience and combing Ono’s long black hair. In Japan, throwing roasted soy beans at a front door and inhabitants of one’s house is a ritual performed with an aim to clear the air of all the bad luck. Yoko Ono takes the sounds of falling beans and hair sliding through fingers in order to create a piece of music that would be a perfect illustration of this ephemeral situation. Her “Kitchen Piece” is an attempt at drawing, yet, there’s not a lot of Michelangelo’s lines in it. It’s rather reminiscent of Marcel Duchamp’s thought: the artist opens the refrigerator, takes out some eggs, Jell-O and sumi ink. Then, she hurls everything furiously at a wall covered with white paper – her hands become her brushes.
Kitchen piece, 1960. Ono and Lennon in their house in Tittenhurst Park
Yoko Ono used to be on a macrobiotic diet, even though she was caught red-handed several times eating furtively some mortadella from the refrigerator at her friend’s house in Toronto, where the Beatles used to stay. Also, it’s common knowledge that she took care of John Cage’s health and it’s thanks to her and the six cookbooks of her recommendation that the composer decided to go on a macrobiotic diet himself and remained faithful to it. If you want to read up on John Cage and the diet check one of our Christmas articles.
Seed is the first restaurant in Europe to serve macrobiotic food. For 20p one could enjoy the basic dishes based on rice and vegetables. In 1967, the place became so popular that you could meet the Rolling Stones, Mark Bolan or John and Yoko there almost every day. Paradox, located in East Village, New York, is another macrobiotic restaurant Ono and Lennon would visit regularly. The restaurant hosted one of Ono’s projects during which people would eat brown rice and sprout salad while others, guests or passers-by, would climb into huge black burlap bags and perform a random show.
Yoko Ono and John Lennon on the streets of New York
In 2012, Ono exhibits and sells to London’s Serpentine galleries her project “Grow love with me” – cans with sword bean, the seed of which, growing in the metal container resembling a nest with perfect growing conditions, splays open at your house (if you decide to buy it), shooting a leaf that bears the message “LOVE”.
What’s the key point of these hardly noticeable, quiet, rather unknown interventions? It’s an unshakeable belief that art, music, poetry and the way each person lives their life can bring a profound global change. Single habits, rituals and steps can lead to the actual change of the world. The artist remains faithful to this belief and I’m here to see her do it: on a retrospective exhibition at MoMA and on social media.
"Grow love with me" , Serpentine Galleries 2013
Apple, 1966. Plexiglas pedestal, brass plaque, apple, 45 × 6 11/16 × 6 15/16′′ (114.3 × 17 × 17.6 cm), MOMA, NY
Text: Anna Królikiewicz
Artist, teacher, author of numerous exhibitions and installations. She works as the Associate Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk where she teaches drawing and at School of Form in Poznań where she gives classes titled The shape of taste. In her drawings and objects she deals with a broadly defined corporeality of a body and the fragility of memory. Her latest works touch upon the issues related to the physiology of taste and the phenomenon of synesthesia.