YOKO ONO :: CUT PIECE documented by The Maysles Bros, Carnegie Recital Hall, New York, March 21, 1965

 

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“In this performance Ono sat on a stage and invited the audience to approach her and cut away her clothing, so it gradually fell away from her body. Challenging the neutrality of the relationship between viewer and art object, Ono presented a situation in which the viewer was implicated in the potentially aggressive act of unveiling the female body, which served historically as one such ‘neutral’ and anonymous subject for art. Emphasizing the reciprocal way in which viewers and subjects become objects or each other, Cut Piece also demonstrates how viewing without responsibility has the potential to harm or even destroy the object of perception.” -Art & Feminism, Edited by Helena Reckitt, with a survey by Peggy Phelan

Yoko Ono was a major figure in the 1960s New York underground art scene, and she continues to produce work and make headlines today. Of several iconic conceptual and performance art pieces that Ono produced, the most famous is Cut Piece (1964), first performed in Tokyo, in which she kneeled on the floor of a stage while members of the audience gradually cut off her clothes. In the ’60s and ’70s Ono was associated with the Fluxus movement—a loose group of avant-garde Dada-inspired artists—and produced printed matter, such as a book titled Grapefruit (1964) containing instructions for musical and artistic pieces. Other works include Smoke Painting (1961), a canvas that viewers were invited to burn. John Cage was a major influence and collaborator for Ono, as was the godfather of Fluxus, George Maciunas.

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Below, excerpted from Kevin Concannon’s Yoko Ono’s CUT PIECE : From Text to Performance and Back Again

Cut Piece was performed by Ono on at least six occasions and by others many times more. The first two performances took place in Kyoto and Tokyo in July and August 1964. The third performance was presented at Carnegie Recital Hall in New York City in March 1965. And the fourth and fifth performances were offered as part of the Destruction in Art Symposium presentation of Two Evenings with Yoko Ono at the Africa Centre in London in September 1966. While Ono “directed” later performances of the work, these were – until September 2003 – the only confirmed occasions on which she herself publicly performed it.

In these first performances by Ono, the artist sat kneeling on the concert hall stage, wearing her best suit of clothing, with a pair of scissors placed on the floor in front of her. Members of the audience were invited to approach the stage, one at a time, and cut a bit of her clothes off – which they were allowed to keep. The score for Cut Piece appears, along with those for several other works, in a document from January 1966 called Strip Tease Show.

Cut Piece First version for single performer: Performer sits on stage with a pair of scissors in front of him. It is announced that members of the audience may come on stage – one at a time – to cut a small piece of the performer’s clothing to take with them. Performer remains motionless throughout the piece. Piece ends at the performer’s option.

Second version for audience: It is announced that members of the audience may cut each other’s clothing. The audience may cut as long as they wish.

And in the 1971 paperback edition of her book, Grapefruit, Ono included not so much a score as a description, concluding with the statement that, “the performer, however, does not have to be a woman.”

 

At earlier performances of Cut Piece, Ono has discussed the work in several different ways. As will be clarified below, she has characterized it as a test of her commitment to life as an artist, as a challenge to artistic ego, as a gift, and as a spiritual act. Critics over the years have interpreted Cut Piece as a striptease, a protest against violence and against war (specifically the Vietnam War), and most recently (and most frequently) as a feminist work. In September 2003, at the age of seventy, Ono performed Cut Piece in Paris “for world peace.” Thirty – nine years after her first performance of the work, she told Reuters News Agency that she did it “against ageism, against racism, against sexism, and against violence.” Although neither Ono nor her critics framed Cut Piece as a feminist work in the 1960s when she was first performing it, she has clearly subsumed the subsequent feminist interpretations of her piece into her own revised intention all these years later.

 

 

Ono’s inspiration for Cut Piece was the legend of the Buddha, who had renounced his life of privilege to wander the world, giving whatever was asked of him. His soul achieved supreme enlightenment when he allowed a tiger to devour his body, and Ono saw parallels between the Buddha’s selfless giving and the artist’s. When addressing serious issues – in this case voyeurism, sexual aggression, gender subordination, violation of a woman’s personal space, violence against women – Ono invariably found means to combine dangerous confrontation with poetry, spirituality, personal vulnerability, and edgy laughter.

Within five years, Haskell and Hanhardt’s rather tentative feminist interpretation had become dominant, cropping up regularly in the popular press as well. Cut Piece wasn’t always a feminist statement, however. Cut Piece is an incredibly rich and poetic work that raises questions about the nature of the artist – audience relationship, and in so doing, deliberately offers its performers, audiences, and critics an opportunity to project their own “meaning” into the work.

While Ono clearly has no objections to the feminist readings that currently prevail, her recent comments also suggest that she understands that “hindsight is twentytwenty.” In 1994 interviewer Robert Enright asked her, while discussing one of her films, “Did you think of yourself as a proto – feminist?” She responded: “I didn’t have any notion of feminism. When I went to London and got together with John that was the biggest macho scene imaginable. That’s when I made the statement ‘Woman is the Nigger of the World.’”7 It was 1969 when she made that statement to Nova, a British women’s magazine. And in 1972 she and Lennon would issue a controversial pop single of the same title.

Discussing the work in a 1967 article in a London underground magazine, Ono told her interviewers: 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.”

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a feminist analysis of Cut Piece:

“Yoko Ono did a performance called “Cut Piece” in 1965. In this piece, Ono sat on a stage wearing a black dress with a pair of scissors and invited viewers to participate by cutting her dress. As seen in the YouTube video, at the beginning of her piece people are very hesitant to cut her clothing, but as Ono’s performance goes on people become more daring. Near the end of her performance, participants cut more and more fabric of her dress, until it is left in tatters. One of the final male participants cuts her bra straps, almost revealing Ono’s breasts. Throughout most of the performance Ono sat still while people cut her dress, but near the end she began to move more, and then had to hold her bra up after the straps were cut, so that her breasts would not be revealed.

Gender is addressed directly in this piece because Ono is becoming a sexual object. She does not talk or move much throughout “Cut Piece,” causing her to become an object rather than a subject with a say about what is being done to her. In class we have talked extensively about women being portrayed as sexual objects rather than subjects, and “Cut Piece” is showing Ono as a female sexual object rather than subject. Ono does not say anything throughout the piece, but through her facial expressions near the end of the YouTube clip, it is evident that she became uncomfortable with how sexually aggressive people have become with her body and her clothing.

This work can relate to Joanna Frueh’s “The Body Through Women’s Eyes” because it directly deals with a woman’s body. Frueh says, “idealizations of the female body reflect and enforce cultural desires about a woman’s beauty and sexuality, her social place and power” (Frueh 190). Frueh also states that during the 1970’s women wanted to reclaim their body. While Ono’s piece was slightly before for the 1970’s, it can still be seen that she was trying to reclaim her body by exposing how others are willing to degrade it. In the video you can see people becoming more and more willing to cut off her clothing, which reveals more of her body. In the end she is almost nude, and by allowing others to expose her body she is reclaiming her own. She is also commenting on a woman’s social place and power through this piece. Throughout the performance she is sitting on the ground and not active. By allowing others to act on her as if she was an object rather than a subject, she depicts a woman’s social place and power as lower than that of a man’s, especially since the person who went so far as to cut her bra strap was a man.

           Adrienne Rich states “Yes, you can do this; this also belongs to you. Like government, art needs the participation of the many in order not to become the property of a powerful and narrowly self-interested few” (Rich 103). By allowing her audience to participate, Ono let her work also become her audience’s work as well. Not only does Ono make a statement about women being treated as sexual objects through her audience, by letting them participate she shows that the performance does not strictly belong to her. “Cut Piece” belongs to everyone involved.        “Cut Piece” commented on sexual violence and aggression in my opinion, and because of that, it reminded me of our discussions on the femicide in Juarez. Ono’s dress being physically cut by the audience reminded me of the tattered clothing left behind of the Juarez victims. In “To Work and Die in Juarez” it states that volunteers found ripped and cut underwear as well as a victim’s overalls (Nieves). In “Cut Piece” Ono’s bra is cut, similar to the cut underwear found in Juarez. The idea sexual violence and cut clothing presented in “Cut Piece” reminded me strongly of the femicide occurring in Juarez.

This work is feminist art. Many people and critics view it as “proto- feminist” art (Concannon). Marcia Tanner believes that “Cut Piece” is feminist because it addresses the serious issues of sexual aggression, gender subordination, violation of a woman’s personal space, and violence against women (Concannon). Barbara Haskell and John Handardt’s book, Yoko Ono: Objects and Arias, describe “Cut Piece” as a feminist art. They explain that she is commenting on the subordination and victimization of women, and that the piece is powerful because of the ambiguity of it (Concannon). The piece is ambiguous in that Ono does not explain why she is doing this, or what point she is trying to make during the process of the piece. She does not talk during the piece at all. She does her best to keep a blank face and be motionless, creating an ambiguous canvas for her art to take place on. I would say that this piece is feminist because of the themes presented in it. As previously mentioned, she exposes the subordination and victimization of women. The piece also comments on sexual aggression because it provides visual evidence of people becoming more and more sexually aggressive by cutting more and more of her dress off, escalating until finally her bra is cut off. The themes evident in this piece make it feminist art.

I was very intrigued by this piece of art. When I began watching the video I was not sure what to expect from the audience when they were encouraged to go up and cut part of Ono’s dress off. I thought most people would be very shy and not cut much of her dress off, which is what happened in the beginning. As the performance progressed, people became more and more sexually aggressive, particularly men. It escalated until finally her dress was in shreds, her bra was cut open, and she was mostly exposed. This is not what I had expected. I was appalled that people would be so sexually aggressive as to cut her bra straps. Sources say that one man even said “Come on, make a piece for Playboy, Richard” (Chladil). I could not believe how sexually aggressive people became. Throughout the whole piece Ono did her best to sit there without any motion or emotion. I was shocked to see how well she responded to a man cutting her bra strap, because I thought that went farther than what the original intent of “Cut Piece” was. Overall I was stunned to see how people could so easily make Ono into a sexual object. I feel that “Cut Piece” is an important piece of art because it exposes the sexual aggression in society, especially towards women.

By: Kate O.,Women And Culture.blogspot.com

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