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> > > Review: Yoko Ono 'To The Light'
twelve passport-style photos of individuals and couples smiling

Yoko Ono Smile 2010 © Yoko Ono

Richard Downes catches up with Cut Piece, from a major exhibition of Yoko Ono's work at the Serpentine Gallery, London until 9 September.

Room Reflecting Your Mind II

This room is cluttered like your mind
This room is uncluttered like your mind
Keep Loving, however they are
Yoko Ono 2012

It is said fans should not review their heroes work. It leads to gushing. I will save this for my DAO blog for all those Yoko fans out there, as indeed my mind is cluttered with experiences found in 'To The Light'. For now; my focus is mainly on Cut Piece 1964/2003

Cut Piece is a celebrated film of the artist from her Fluxus period. Staged and filmed in 1964. Young Yoko sits on a New York floor. People approach her to cut into her clothing, removing it, revealing the flesh that lies beneath. Myth has it that she sits impassively. She does not. She is relatively still. Her nerve mostly holds. She is young, vulnerable, at the mercy of well dressed men and women.

A final, self-styled playboy hacks at her bra. Not one cut piece but many. His actions are savage, reprehensible. Yoko clasps the remnants to her breasts, clearly distressed. A comment on the relationships not just between artist and viewer but men and women too. Put yourself in Yoko's place. What if you were being hacked at? Have you experienced this? As a woman, a disabled person, you may understand the risk, the danger of abuse. Is this idea fit for consumption? What challenges were made in 1964?

What changed in 40 years? Could Yoko's work make the change she wanted to see.

Cut Piece was restaged several times. The film shown opposite the young Yoko is from 2003; taken from a performance at Theatre La Ranelagh, Paris. Yoko was then 70 years old. The cutting is more deferential. Participants approach her with greater respect. Aspects of the sexism and racism that once framed commonly held views on Yoko are further away from her, though not from all the audience. Quiet acknowledgements pass between artist and cutter now paying homage to the sitter. The cloth becomes a treasured celebrity relic.

A young couple share their cutting and kiss. Love is in the air. One woman says she cannot do this to Yoko. The violent voyeurs are still there. Yoko shudders at the disrespect they show her. She remains strong. Left in bra and knickers it is difficult to see Yoko as an older woman. Yet at this time Yoko started commenting on ageism too - she now had another justified passion for equality, another campaign to engage in, more questions for the viewer.

I am not ashamed as some are to profess love for the many ages and aspects of Yoko Ono and her work. Her offers of peace and love are often rebuked by critics who cannnot accept it without knowing the person, it would seem. They sit comfortable in media towers, mocking activism, laughing at her passion for equality, returning positivism with snide comments founded in all of the isms she has endured over the years, (commonly held views of the establishment refracted through history).

I appreciate the fun and vitality still being delivered. My political views were founded in the story of John and Yoko who have both included me in their work and allowed me to participate. In 1968 they planted Acorns for peace. In 2008 I followed instructions in 100 Acorns, describing my views and experiences as a disabled person - something we can still do. Like Yoko I will have to respond to technology if my smile is to be included in Can a smile change the world? Can you smile too? Will you particpate in this psychic action?

Conceived as a way of connecting people across the world, #smilesfilm invites people to upload and send images of their smiles by hash-tagging #smilesfilm, creating a global string of smiles covering the planet.

Yoko Ono's retrospective exhibition TO THE LIGHT shows at the Serpentine Gallery from 21 June to  9 September 2012.

Open daily, 10am - 6pm
Admission free
Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens,
London W2 3XA
Level Access

Phone: 020 7402 6075

TO THE LIGHT is part of the London 2012 Festival. For more information on the Festival programme visit