To celebrate Yoko Ono’s 80th Birthday we have shared an excerpt from Lisa Carver’s new book, Reaching Out with No Hands: Reconsidering Yoko Ono. Please enjoy!!!
This book is not about Yoko Ono. It’s about what she isn’t. What she doesn’t do, and what she will not be. Yoko Ono is not pretty, she is not easy, her paintings aren’t recognizable, her voice is not melodious, her films are without plot, and her Happenings make no sense. One of her paintings you are told to sleep on. One of her paintings you are told to burn. One of her paintings isn’t a painting at all—it’s you climbing into an outdoor bathtub and looking at the sky. Most of her stuff is not even there. This is why I love her. This is why we need her. We have too much stuff already. It clutters our view, inward and outward. We need more impossible in our culture. Go out and capture moonlight on water in a bucket, she commands. Her art is instructions for tasks impossible to complete.
We already have a billion lovely things and a million amazing artists who have honed their talent and have lorded it above us. People who have achieved the highest of the possible. People wearing their role as artist or writer or filmmaker or spokesperson as a suit of armor or an invisibility cloak or an intimidatingly, unacquirably tasteful outfit. Even other artists can’t figure Yoko out or accept her as legit, nor can she obey the club rules. Her stuff is all wrong. Grow a weed and admire it. “Listen” to a two-minute song of recorded silence, music lovers. And you, the most imperialist and arms-profiteering superpower in the history of the world, give peace a chance.
When you tell someone to do the undoable, you’re really only showing them how impossible it ever was that anyone wanted us to use our lifetime to follow orders, to accept what is agreed is reasonable. We already have a million people telling us what to do and what to believe. Yoko is telling us, “You don’t have to.” She proposes the idea that all we thought had to be done didn’t have to, doesn’t have to. And maybe some exploitative things we did to maintain order, our position on the job and in the family, were not necessary and normal after all. Life might not be arranged along one certain pyramid of hierarchical order.
John Lennon once described her as “the world’s most famous unknown artist: everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does.” Many people are aware of her art, and her music has always split crowds, from her caterwauling earliest work to her later dance numbers, but how many people have looked at Yoko Ono’s decades-spanning career and varied work in total and asked the simple question, “Is it any good?”
From her earliest work with the Fluxus group and especially her relationship with John Cage, through her enigmatic pop happenings (where she met John Lennon), her experimental films, cryptic books, conceptual art, and her long recording career that has vacillated between avant-garde noise and proto-new wave, earning the admiration of other artists while generally confusing the public at large who often sees her only in the role of the widow Lennon, Reaching Out with No Hands is the first serious, critical, wide-ranging look at Yoko Ono the artist and musician.
A must-read for art and music fans interested in going beyond the stereotyped observations of Yoko as a Lennon hanger-on or inconsequential avant noisemaker.