Touched, pushed, squeezed, undressed, cut, pointed at by a gun. Marina Abramovic, the 'Grandmother of Performance Art', presented her most distinguished work 'Rhythm 0' in Naples in 1974. However, she was not the first to explore the physicality of the human body and the associated issues of humanity in performances. Ten years earlier, Yoko Ono had already delivered the 'Cut Piece' in Kyoto in which the artist sat at the centre of the stage and invited each participant to come forward and cut off her clothes piece by piece, including her underwear. Leading conceptual artist, backer of the Fluxus movement, anti-war activist, John Lennon's wife, the woman in black and white... the list of hashtags for this avant-garde Japanese female artist is endless.
The philosophy of Ono with the alternative perspective of subliming everyday banality began to sprout when she was taught to compose music based on the sound of a clock at the age of 7. The notion of blending of art and life has since then seeded deeply in the artist's principles which continuously influenced her creations over more than 70 years. Her work spans from conceptual painting, installation, performance to music, usually extending the imaginary space unseen in daily experience.
Postcards were one of her most used media, on which she announced her upcoming performance in instruction-based language, playfully employing the semi-open nature of postcard to stimulate the wider public. The thriving use of language in her art was fully demonstrated in her phenomenal artist book, Grapefruit, published in 1964. The book carried 151 sheets of typescript documenting her whimsical instruction-paintings. These instructions, often grounded in fundamental elements (e.g. the earth, the sky, the cloud, etc.), illuminated the intimate tie between human and nature in poetic lines. In 'Painting for the Wind' (1961), for example, she had asked viewers to "cut a hole in a big filled with seeds of any kind and place the bag where there is wind".
Ono became more politically vocal when she moved to the United States in the mid-1950s. Collaborated with her husband John Lennon, the couple initiated a peace campaign, 'War is Over!' (1969) in 11 cities worldwide. People were mobilised to parade the cities with anti-war signs. Ono had further engaged in the social context by composing songs such as Sisters O Sisters (1972) and Josei joi banzai (Cheers to women's on top) (1973) supporting women rights under the influence of her beloved Lennon.
Currently based in New York, the 80-year-old legend stated, "I have no desire to retire from active life, whatsoever" in response to concerns about her old age. Just one week after Trump shocked the world by securing his own presidency, Ono posted the following picture on her Instagram account to her 287,000+ followers. In her elegantly written words of "light" and "hope", her bottomless fervency for art and life is still deeply felt today.