Yoko Ono, Installation view, Yoko Ono: TO THE LIGHT. Serpentine Gallery, London. (19 June - 9 September 2012) © 2012 Jerry Hardman-Jones. The Tokyo-born artist, musician, poet, performer and peace activist Yoko Ono is the subject of the Serpentine Gallery’s
summer exhibition. Before she became a household name in the late 1960s for her relationship with John Lennon, Ono established herself as a pioneer of the type of multidisciplinary conceptual practice that was define avant-garde art over the following decades.
The New York-based artist was a figure in the Fluxus movement, a loose affiliation of international artists who worked together from 1961. Fluxus sought to break boundaries between art and life, emphasising the potential of everyday actions to be art. An example on view is her project #smilesfilm (2010/2012), for which people contribute images of their smiles via the web – these are projected on a screen in the Serpentine. visitors to the exhibition can have their grins captured by a camera too and can participate in the work Wish Trees by tying their written messages on trees outside the gallery.
Yoko Ono, Installation view, Yoko Ono: TO THE LIGHT. Serpentine Gallery, London. (19 June - 9 September 2012) © 2012 Jerry Hardman-Jones.
But these optimistic works are contrasted with those that examine our inhumanity to each other. Ono’s moving-image piece HAPPY XMAS (WAR IS OVER), MUSIC VIDEO (2003) is comprised of newsreels of children being killed in war zones. In footage of her famous performance Cut Piece (1965), which was featured in the RA's exhibition 'Aware: Art, Fashion, Identity'
and can be viewed here,
members of the audience are shown taking it in turns to cut off a piece of her clothing with a pair of scissors. Ono’s own body remains passive throughout, becoming for the viewer a potent image of disempowerment.
Sam Phillips is a London-based arts journalist and contributor to RA Magazine