“Half-a-Wind Show” Celebrates Six Decades of Yoko Ono
Jacob Stubbe Østergaard 07/06/2013
Yoko Ono “Half-a-wind Show” Louisiana, Humlebæk June 7 – September 29, 2013
Yoko Ono – everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does. As her late husband John Lennon put it, she is “the most famous unknown artist in the world”. But now she might have to pass this title on to Ai Weiwei or Jeff Koons. Ono's works are being exhibited with great media hype at the most famous art museum in Denmark – Louisiana – as well as at Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, Germany. The exhibition is called “Half-a-wind Show”, and it's a massive retrospective: a 5-star banquet of Ono, with paintings, history, videos, static as well as interactive installations, and a room dedicated to her music.
In the midst of all the retrospection, a brand new installation also comes to light: Moving Mountains, in which the public is invited to use cloth bags to create moving sculptures, to the tune of Ono's song of the same name.
Arterritory.com was present when Ono held a press conference at Louisiana on Thursday. We also caught hold of curator Kirsten Degel for a short interview afterwards.
Yoko takes the stage
Camera technicians are messing with wires and headphones and angles and sound levels in the picturesque concert hall at Louisiana, which commands a view over a sunny green hillside and out across the sea. There's at least 50 or 60 of us muttering excitedly to each other as Yoko Ono is about to enter the room. And then the cameras start clicking away and the photographers stumble over each other to take pictures of the small, frail 80-year-old lady placidly making her way down the stairs.
Once it's her turn to talk, though, there is nothing small or frail about her words:
Phototo: Bjarke Ørsted. Credit: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, DK
“My performance is to come here and to be here. There's a big difference between just seeing my work and seeing me. This body has been living for 80 years. Without me saying anything, I know my body is communicating with you. Regardless of what I want to show you, my true self is this.”, she says, and points at herself.
She gets questions about her music and her performance, about exhibiting at Louisiana (which she seems to consider a special privilege), and about growing older.
“In my mind, I'm still me, and I never changed.”, she says. “But I'm also changing every day and it's so exciting. The world is changing so much. And to just be alive and experiencing those things. I'm so thankful every day that I'm still alive and doing these things. It's so great, you know.”
“I'm doing things with love, not with duty... No, I'm doing it with duty too, but I love that duty. Otherwise I would not take it.”, she continues. “...The only time I do art is when I love it.”
Finally, one journalist asks her how she copes with being introduced as a “living legend”. She makes her closing remark to the press conference:
“I don't feel like a living legend. I feel like we are all living legends.”
“She throws her party in the children's room...” – interview with the curator
Now Yoko Ono has gone off for a photo session, and we sit down for a little interview with the curator of the whole show, Louisiana's Kirsten Degel.
What do you want to achieve with this exhibition?
We want to focus on her work. Yoko Ono is a name everyone knows, but few people know what a groundbreaking body of work she has created. She was an artist in her own right before she met John Lennon and she keeps experimenting. Many of her artistic strategies are being rediscovered by young contemporary artists at the moment. So the timing was great. Her 80th birthday just made it even more perfect. Also, we thought it was time for a comprehensive exhibition that could grasp the full spectrum of her art. It's an incredibly diverse body of work: performance, text, objects and then the whole musical side, which hasn't been exhibited like this before either.
I was thinking of just that: Yoko is particularly famous for her performance works. How have you gone about including performance in the exhibition format?
Many of Yoko Ono’s ideas are not meant to be exhibited. They are more like thought experiments. But we've tried our best. We have produced a lot of the works anew, to give people a chance to really interact with them and co-create them. Also, there are many quality recordings of her early performance, which are visually strong. We have tried in these ways to make it all breathe.
Louisiana is a museum famous for its unique avantgarde architecture and its beautiful location on a hill by the sea. How do Yoko Ono’s works get along with this place?
Really well. Many of her pieces engage space and location. Because most her pieces are very flexible, there are many ways to present them. So the exhibition looks completely different here than in Frankfurt. We've given a lot of dedication to working it into this setting in a good way.
Louisiana is also a great place for Yoko Ono to exhibit because we share the same history. Louisiana opened in 1958, about the time when Yoko Ono started working with the Fluxus group. Louisiana was a major player on the avantgarde-scene in Copenhagen while Yoko Ono was the same in New York.
Finally, what is it about Yoko Ono that makes her a star even after all these years?
She manages to have her party in the children's room. I mean that in a good way. She has an incredibly playful, experimenting, open-minded and curious quality, which has caused her always to keep evolving. She's extremely active on all the social media – you name them... – in order to deliver her message to a large number of people. She's good at reaching out to you – if you open yourself to her art. You have to invest something of yourself before the works open up to you. But you get so much in return if you do. Just think of her musical career. Young music artists are queuing to remix and cover her songs. And she allows them to. She thinks it's fun.
Legendary Louisiana, on the coast 32 km north of Copenhagen. The building winds through the uneven landscape and encapsulates a seaside park full of sculptures. Photo (C) Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, DK
Because she doesn't feel that her works are “sacred”?
Exactly. I think she's pretty cool in that way. I'm a big fan. Everyone has some preconceptions about Yoko Ono, but once you get over them and take a look at what she's actually produced, you begin to realize what a great artist she actually is.
“Half-a-wind Show” is named by Ono herself after a performance she gave in 1965. It is a celebration of her 80th birthday. Ono's story is long and winding: Born into an upper-class Tokyo family in 1933, she endured hardship during World War II when Tokyo was bombed and her family had to flee into the countryside and live in poverty. After the war, she went to New York, where her art career began in a small loft in 1961. She gradually established herself as a performance artist. In the early years, she was inspired and mentored by legendary avantgarde composer John Cage, but by the end of the 1960's, another John was to become her main influence, namely John Lennon of The Beatles. Lennon brought Ono into the world of music, and together, they went on to form The Plastic Ono Band. Ono simultaneously added a new dimension to Lennon's work, staging political performances such as their Bed-in For Peace during the Vietnam war. Ono went into a hiatus for a time after Lennon was murdered in 1980 while walking by Ono's side. However, she returned to the public eye soon after, and went on to gain even greater acclaim through music as well as performance and other art forms.
The exhibition at Louisiana is accompanied by a series of events, including a performance of Ono's Sky Piece to Jesus Christ, in which an orchestra is wrapped in gauze while playing.
When Yoko Ono once again flies away after having opened the exhibition, the billboards and construction site walls of central Copenhagen will have been adorned with her favourite words: “DREAM”, “TOUCH”, “BREATHE” and, of course, “IMAGINE”.