At last; the time and space to do my last piece on Yoko's To The Light exhibition. I've been 3 or 4 times now. All pieces but this one was based on the first visit when i could not face down a moster called FEAR in spite of the instruction on the back wall 'Be grand', despite of the fact that I know a secret that would have helped.
In this room Yoko has constructed a maze made out of perspex. I know what awaits me in the metaphorical centre - myself. But that's not what i'm afraid of. I sit on a small white stool or table and watch other people smiling as they go around, listening to the loud thud when they bump into the barriers they cannot see. I sit and wait. Will I go in - can I? No i can't. What am I afraid of? Humiliation at being seen unable to find my way around. No. I've told you I know a secret. The secret of how to find my way around a maze and how to get out again. A young Australian told me the secret and it works. I think my fear is more about being seen at all. I've always had that. I used to wear a hat with a brim that I would pull over my eyes thinking if I can't see anyone then no one can see me. It worked. It mean't I could go to the town centre. It was completely stupid of course because it mean't everyone would see me but it did not impinge on my belief.
I wouldn't mind invisibility. I think, if i didn't talk about it, write about it, I could be a really successful invisible artist. Something as changed within me. Back in the 80's I couldn't put my name to anything. I thought I was the best writer in the world then and my name was Anon. I'd written some great fables as you will well know. Poems too. They all carried my name then.... Anon. Now, i'm Richard Downes and I write for DAO and sometimes I really fret about what i'm going to say and how it will be received. I trust my words. I don't trust how people will read them. This curse of being visible, of having to be heard.... i've cracked some of it but, there is no way i'm going into that maze.
On my last visit I made it. Jean was with me. She was on her first visit. She had no fear about going into the maze. She went in first. I purposely went another way knowing that i was safe with the secret. She looked back and saw me walking away and turned to follow me. I had to turn back and go past her. I could basically run with the secret and Jean would struggle to catch me. This was fun. We were laughing. We got to the centre which is not a centre. Its off to the side; fact fans. I sent Jean in to find herself first. She seemed a little apprehensive about me letting her past. She didn't find herself because of it. I had to take her back in. She found herself. I found myself. My isn't that wonderful. No it isn't but its OK.
We came out. I had to pass a stranger. That was a little harder. There's not a lot of space in here. Tight bends. Not accessible. If you pass someone you have to at least acknowledge them. Say hello or smile. But it was OK. I was still having fun and now I know another secret. Turning on the fun beats fear all the time.
Thanks Yoko for the fun and the inspiration that gave me seven pieces from one exhibition. I really liked almost all of it.
The room has four walls. One leading outside is full of windows. No art stands there. The other three walls hold a collection of photos in horizontal line. Each of the photos are the same as the one before. It is a blurred photo. Probably a portrait of a man who wears glasses. It is hard to tell. The piece is called Vertical Memory and is dated 1997. But you said it's a horizontal line and its called vertical. Why is that?
Each photo represents an event in life. In life we grow tall - well, some of us do. We grow upwards. The movement is vertical. We stand against a wall and have our inches marked off for us as children. Yoko is marking off something else entirely. As she grows she grows in line with medical and caring interventions. It is these that are marked out horizontally as she herself grows towards the sky.
There are three main characters. Care attendants, Priests and Doctors. Don't be surprised to find holy men conspiring with your death within the medical model. Who else will administer those last rites.
Yoko didn't like the care attendant, Shosi, who held her hand on the walk to school. She found his attendance an embarrassment. Her preference was for freedom. Later, in wartime, in penury, malnourished, feeling faint and next to fever a doctor tells her to close her eyes. He bends over her. She feels uncomfortable. The medic kisses her. These are portents for the medical model. Confinement, threats, abuse. Then there begins a list of removals. Appendix, tonsils, wisdom teeth. The list that is taken never seems to meet with gifts that are given back. A psychiatrist enters the room. Yoko has a real problem. She is not dating. She should be dating. Her value is found in matrimony. I am guessing there is a cultural imperative here. Dating is normal. Not dating is time to call the doctor.
More is taken. Yoko's tale is told in part by failure to deliver a child too. She miscarries, she has abortions. Is it Life With The Lions or The Wedding Album that records a foetus heartbeat prior to another miscarriage. Do you hear the heartbeat playing in the gallery, or the hawk, are you praying for or circling over Syria and all the children dying there today, the mothers who will not deliver, the partners who will not share fruit. Yoko records the birth of a son and daughter.
Interestingly 4 artists appear. They do not differ at all from those engaged in the model under discussion here. Are they working within the professions or is it their values that are the same. Is it about unkindness, cruelty, invasion, removal, disrespect. I must return one day to read the words applied here.
Towards the end Yoko refuses to take a last confession from a priest and whilst a doctor might close her eyes at the end as in the beginning Yoko protests you cannot take my mind and of cause remembers all the beds she laid in during this horizontal record railing at the last; "What percentage of my life did I take it lying down?"
And of cause this blog should end there with dissatisfaction and protest but I remain male and must have the last word. It always struck me as somewhat fallacious that the social model would be railed against by feminists on the grounds that it was constructed by men. I never understood the criticism that the social model failed to encompass pain. It was my feeling that the model could cover all and speak of everything. I have tested this model on the grounds of race and believe that it could and should apply to age. It will guide me the more steps I take into that sphere. I never thought to test gender against the other models. But Yoko has taken me there as a woman speaking to a man.
In front of the windows 5 exhibits: A Family Album demarcated by High Heel Shoes, A Letter and Envelop, A Coathanger, Thread and Needle and A Mind Box. Bronze sculptures covered in blood (well red paint). It strikes me now that these pieces belong with the memory. The coathanger is bent out of shape to act as forceps or abortion machinery.
What was in the letter who was it from? How much did she bleed after the event? How would the needle and thread be used and what was in the mind box that it should bleed so profusely now?
I want to open it. They won't let me. I find myself before it considering my own anger and my own sense of loss. I find myself more moved today, all these weeks after the event, by the composition within the four walls but I was more moved by the box on the day than i can imagine now. Its funny that.
I have an instinctive love and understanding of wish trees. I am drawn to them. They make me think.
According to my old mate Wiki; “A wish tree is an individual tree, usually distinguished by species, position or appearance, which is used as an object of wishes and offerings. Such trees are identified as possessing a special religious or spiritual value. By tradition, believers make votive offerings in order to gain from that nature spirit, saint or goddess fulfillment of a wish”.
One of the most glamourous wish trees, the only one I wished on, stood in Waterlow Park, Highgate. It was distinguished by copper tags containing wishes that the sun reflected into the park. I guess the copper made it art.
In the health centre where I work the local bereavement counseling service installs a xmas tree every year and provides tags for anyone who wishes to remember someone who has passed on. I have used that tree to remember family, friends and people that I never knew including last year, 3 musicians. I never knew Was I wishing though and would I call it art.
As a sometime self advocacy facilitator I have worked with groups who have wanted wish trees. These have happened in day centres with art classes and trees but no one, no member of staff, ever thought to follow up on the wish for a wish tree. Strikes me these would be good for person centred planning exercises. But who cares if people in the institution wish or not.
Every now and then I take a trip to Avebury and Glastonbury. I have an interest in paganism but do not define as a pagan as according to the Pagan Federation I need to accept a divinity in my life and cannot do this. There are trees in these places, my favourite one being at Swallowhead Spring. I have seen the most amazing, thoughtful, votive offerings there. I never knew they held wishes. And some of them where Art. I must ask the editor to make a gallery of my photos.
Yoko has installed a number of wish trees at the entrance of the Serpentine Gallery. I watched people of all ages participating in the process, writing down their wishes in their own languages or with pictures. I read the tags that I could read. Many pursue the Yoko doctrine. Peace, Love, Joy, appear many times.
Other genuine wishes for good grades, holidays, birthdays, sunshine, self centred wishes maybe; but not predominating. Within all this goodness, an adolescent tells everyone, his favourite out of all the wishes is; “I wish this gallery exhibited real art not this rubbish”. Well suck it and see sucker because in making that wish you became involved in art. You joined the process, you followed the instruction, you interacted with the sculpture, you joined the performance, you were not embarrassed to do it and because you did Yoko will help your wish live on.
She will collect your tag, she will install it somewhere else. You may have been cynical but appreciate what happened, appreciate that you, me, and everyone else can join in the instruction to keep on wishing and maybe we could make this our art.
Also, what wish will you make here.
It is a long walk from Tottenham Court Road Tube to the Serpentine Gallery. Made harder by an unusually hot summer's day. I wander whilst I wonder and wonder whilst I wander. Mostly I'm wondering am I going the right way. I've passed the Serpentine before. It's over there somewhere. It does seem a long way and a long time wandering. The new building surrounded by workmen's boundaries confuses further. I plod on wondering why I never depend on maps when I should and why it always comes good in the end.
Somehow I am behind the Serpentine. Yoko's Chess Piece is in front of me. A public installation. An all white board with all white pieces. Children play with it. Obeying the ancient instruction to play with trust and joy. Father watches son carry a king by his sceptre and a queen by her crown, simultaneously removing both from the board. Surely that's not allowed. The remaining white king and queen stand where they started - unmoved; not attacking, nor like the england football team forever in defence, never making moves. In chess white moves first. It is a convention. But which of the 32 whites, which side, and why is the straight, traditional formation being kept.
Indeed, how do you play this game. The board is white. The pieces are not constrained by squares. There is no reason why they should move in the accepted way. How do you enter a contest here? How to compete? Remove the barriers. Change the rules. What happens?
I want this to go even further now. Change the shape of the board. Make it circular. Change the shape of the pieces. Why should this even be chess? Stop this idea of taking. Play the game to mingle. Conjoin indistinct communities. Work the game away from war, battle.
Maybe its no longer about attack, winning, beating. Maybe shapes, shadows, and signs create new trusts, new joys. Look, king to pawn are fundamentally no different. Castles are not neurotic, knights not psychotic, bishops not despotic. Status is gone. Movement is free. This is the nutopian ideal of the chess board. There are no countries, no passports, no flags.
"We announce the birth of a conceptual country, NUTOPIA.
Citizenship of the country can be obtained by declaration of your awareness of NUTOPIA.
NUTOPIA has no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people.
NUTOPIA has no laws other than cosmic.
All people of NUTOPIA are ambassadors of the country.
As two ambassadors of NUTOPIA, we ask for diplomatic immunity and recognition in the United Nations of our country and its people.
Yoko Ono Lennon
John Ono Lennon
One White Street
New York, New York 10013
April 1st 1973"
The national anthem of NUTOPIA has no sound and only lasts 3 seconds. Its flag is white and cannot be seen against a cloudy, cumulus sky. Nutopia like the chess set cannot be invaded, nor beaten, only occupied by you and me. I have spent time in Nutopia. I have built a social model there. I have spent time in Nutopia. I have found rights there. I have spent time in Nutopia, no abuse, no hate crime there. Should you imagine Nutopia on an all white chess board what will you see there?
The thought of meeting Yoko Ono - as a New Voices Writer excited me. If it came to be - and it did not - what would my interest be?
The Tragedy Model
How to commit simple instructions as a way of overcoming personal tragedy
The experience of exclusion
The nature of segregation
Participation and inclusivity
I will say more about Positive Activism in More Yoko No 2 - Yoko Versus We All Shot Pudsey Bear.
I have lived experiences of the Tragedy Model. So, has Yoko. The death of John being just one circumstance. Living through war, malnutrition, child kidnap, sexism, racism, the burden of believed to have broken up the Beatles (a false belief), miscarriage. Yet Yoko does not come over as pitied, feared, tragic but brave, etc. How did she survive? How did she get by? Was art intrinsic to survival?
Yoko has done many instruction pieces. Here she gives out an instruction. It is up to you if you follow it. It is up to you to experience and create from the instruction. How do you instruct yourself to survive tragedy. This is an example of an instruction piece. It comes from Revelations, part of 100 Acorns.
"Bless you for your fear, For it is a sign of wisdom. Do not hold yourself in fear".
The experience of exclusion. The British Press and Media did not welcome Yoko. Neither did fans of the Beatles and it seems the Beatles themselves had to learn to love her. As disabled People we live in a time where the barons of Fleet Street and government minsiters seem only to keen to lay the blame for all that is wrong in our society at our feet.
The nature of segregation. More from 100 Acorns
You are water
We’re all water in different containers
that’s why it’s so easy to meet
someday we’ll evaporate together
But even after the water’s gone
we’ll probably point out to the containers
and say, “that’s me there, that one.”
We’re container minders
Participation and Inclusivity. Just in case you haven't got it yet. You are a part of Yoko's art. You are a part of art. Art cannot work without your participation. the difference is that Yoko seeks to include you and leaves it for you to be included or not.
Given these areas of interest, how could I not be interested in the art of Yoko Ono?