Yoko Ono

yoko ono impressions in spain


Written by Jorge Artajo, 2001

It was a rainy Sunday and just before waking up a white cotton cloud got into my head. So, there I was, very early in the morning with a cloudy state of mind heading with my wife and daughter from our little and quiet village towards Palau de la Virreina to see Impressions, just in the middle of the most overcrowded street of Barcelona: Las Ramblas. Hemingway said that it was the most beautiful street in the world, and of course it is, but not for its buildings, but for the life and energy that radiates. It's a place to look, laugh and talk to the others. The proximity of the red light district made Las Ramblas a favourite place in the Sixties and Seventies for drop outs and hippies. Well here we are (wife, daughter and I) in front of Palau de la Virreina, Yoko seems to say welcome from a great photograph of her face placed on the central balcony over the entrance. The doors have just been opened and a little group of people has gone directly to the patio at the end of the dark hall in front of the entrance where the Wish Tree For Barcelona (an olive tree) had been placed. They started writing wishes, so wife and daughter did it too. They wrote several wishes, and that amazed me because I thought that the logical thing was to write one wish, but no rules are written over wishes, so as they have thousands of wishes, they took the chance of putting them on paper. This time I didn't feel like writing wishes on paper and I preferred to see the others doing it, so I stood still looking at them feeling the cloud in my head. I looked at the tree and I loved the big round flowerpot stand made of dark metal with two stairs, with wife and daughter climbing to hang their wishes and then I told myself the only wish that I have: "I wish their wishes come true". The last look at the tree revealed me that somebody have written several times the word "Mierda" (shit). A funny wish I thought.

Then we took the stairs that lead to the main floor. Here we were almost alone, because the visit to the Wish Tree is free, but for the exhibition you have to pay 500 pts adults, 250 pts students and old people. It's not so expensive, but it prevents people from going to exhibitions. The main part of the exhibition spreads out over the whole first floor around the patio. The walls of the rooms of the palace have been covered with big wood panels, most of them painted in grey metal. The floor of the whole corridor is covered by thousands of big sheets of white paper with the text of different Instructions. Some of them say: "Painting to be stepped on" so I thought this should be a new version of Painting To Be Stepped On.

In the corridor some holes in the wooden panels allow to see part of the rooms. I love this idea, I think this is a good way of approaching things. A little stolen subversive peep lights your brain faster than when you see everything clearly. The first room was dedicated to different versions of Painting(s) To Hammer A Nail and to a big version of Painting To Be Painted With Water. Daughter started hammering nails in the tough pieces, while wife was introducing nails in the soft ones saying "I am not good at hammering nails, if I'd try maybe I'd finished hammering my thumb, and besides I found it very noisy, maybe they are going to put us out from here. C'mon you cloudy man do something! We are here because of you!" The cloud in my mind started to melt and as I have always thought that this piece should work on the contrary I started pulling out all the nails and I left in every piece only three nails (not as a symbol of the holy trinity, or Jesus and the thieves in the crosses. No, they represented: wife, daughter and I: 3 heroes, 3 martyrs, 3 special people, 3 ordinary people). Then I took one of the brushes of the Painting To Be Painted With Water I dipped it in water and painted big water flowers. My daughter, happy of seeing me alive again, took the biggest brush, soaked it with water and made a big circle around the flowers, then soaked it again and started jumping and throwing the water over the painting "a la Jackson Pollock". I looked at her surprised and she said: "What are you looking at, you silly man? I am watering your flowers!"

"Poor Yoko, with me on the other side she would have had to do all the talking"

In one of the corners of the next room there was a beautiful and new design of Cleaning Piece, but this time there were no three amount of stones, but only one. In one of the walls was the Telephone Piece For Barcelona. A simple wall telephone, a very ugly and usual design in Spain during the Eighties (every Spanish home had one of the three versions of this telephone: wall, table or the ultra modern góndo). It was announced that Yoko would call at any moment during the evenings. It was early in the morning, so the telephone stayed mute, and as I am very shy I don't think I would have the courage to pick up the telephone. Poor Yoko, with me on the other side she would have had to do all the talking. It would have been a frustrating experience for both of us. So I'm glad that the telephone didn't ring because it would have had woken up all the butterflies in my stomach. I relaxed and at that very moment the cloud in my head disappeared.

It was the first time that I saw The Blue Room Event covered with writings and drawings made by people who had visited the exhibition. As usually many visitors don't realize that this is a work by Yoko, they simply think is a wide white room and pass by, I thought that maybe Yoko have would try another thing to made them aware, by allowing them to write or draw on it. But no, it was an accident, the superviser told us that it happened the opening day, that they couldn't control the situation. People took brushes and acrylics from the next room, where there were some canvases to be painted, and started painting the white walls of The Blue Room and nobody could stop them. - Now, she said, we have to paint this room in white again. -Why don't you ask Yoko Ono before?, I said, maybe she would like it as it is now?. -Maybe it is a good idea, she said. I smiled to her and I saw the word "Mierda" (shit) again written on the white wall. Aha! - I thought, so the mind full of shit belongs to one of the selected ones! (Yoko couldn't attend the opening day, and she used to do the handwriting in The Blue Room with little characters in black. So here in Impressions, I don't know who did the writing on the walls, but it was horrible: "This is the floor", etc. were made in big size and in different colors, nothing to do with the concept of The Blue Room Event of other exhibitions.

The next room was a big contrast: it looked like a kind of kindergarten. There we met some people for the first time during our journey through the exhibition. They were sitting at a big table cutting images from magazines and sticking on other images, trying to follow the instructions of A+B Painting. Three of the walls of the room were covered by big A + B Paintings made by people. On the fourth wall there were three big canvases and some acrylics on the floor invited people to paint. In one of the canvases appeared big and red, again the word "Mierda" (shit). I painted close by it, over a mess of colours, a smiling and daring devil, just to put a touch of humour, while wife and daughter were cutting and sticking photographs of buildings parks and cities over other photographs of cities parks and buildings. They were constructing our ideal home in our ideal environment, they said. We have just made our own A + B + C Painting.

We loved Cut Piece. We were impressed by this event. It was very strange to see Yoko in this movie. She seems to be all the time on the edge of tears. We felt that she was giving a special and very specific meaning to every cut. At the end, daughter said that Cut Piece was a good way to know the psyche of people around you. She said that it was easy to see the different personalities for their way of cutting or for their reactions when invited to cut.

Turning into shadows

We spent a lot of time trying our best shots in the corner of Shadow Piece. We'll return next month to see if the people in charge of the exhibition select our photographs. We were a little confused looking at the wall in front that was completely covered of bags of seeds (Painting For The Wind). We didn't try to get some of those bags, because the wall looked beautiful that way, but by luck, one of the supervisers seeing our inner doubts, invited us to take some of the bags, we took four, one for every one of us and an extra one for Sari. Then we saw pieces of Fly, Rape and Lightning Piece, took the headphones from the wall for Cough Piece, Fly Piece or Laughing Piece, where a horrible voice of a regular radio or TV announcer read in Catalan the text of the Instructions sticked on the wall in front of the headphones (I think that it would be a better idea to put Yoko's voice in English, than this pompous voice that made me throw the headphones out of my head very fast! Yoko should change this at once, it's really ugly; not the voice, but the way the Instructions are read!)

Mending the world

We were impressed by the Mend Piece For The World especially by its meaning and we didn't dare to touch or do anything. We just looked at the table full of broken ceramics where some people have tried to reconstruct the original pieces or create new ones. They looked like crippled people and we had sad feelings. Some of us felt broken after September 11th and this piece was like a mirror to us. It shows that there is lot of work to do in order to try to make our dreams come true. A big nightmare became real, so maybe this should mean that good and positive dreams are possible too. It can be as simple as thinking about the things that evoke hate in one, and trying not to do that to the others and on the contrary: thinking about the the things that evoke our love and pleasure, and don't be shy in doing that to the others. We should try to enjoy simple things and share, be generous and gentle. These are some ways to see the eyes of people spark.

With this in mind we headed for the exit, and just before got out we peeped through a last little hole and we saw one of the original and beautiful rooms of the Palace, it was like a kind of inner and dreamy landscape, very strange with its beautiful furniture, its perfect painted walls with golden reflections. It was a great contrast with the previous destruction.

The last room was Painting In Three Stanzas it looked like a flower shop, the whole room was covered with shelves, full of little plastic pots with little climbing plants. Again a superviser invited us to take some with us. We took three. It was like a kind of wink from Yoko. If we are going to start our lives again we should do it in a very easy way. At the moment we can start by making these plants come to life by watering them every day. And if we are able to see the plants as metaphors for persons, then we would be able to direct towards them our efforts and pleasures.

Out in the street we realized that the exhibition continued there. There were thousands of advertisements hanging from the lamp posts, every one with the face of Yoko and a different Instruction. And as an everyday reminder of the exhibition, there was a different ad every day, similar to those on the streets, in El País, the best newspaper in the country. Now several days after our journey through Impressions looking at the cat looking at our three plants growing on our window pane, I have a last thought: I would like to know how are the plants doing of the one with the mind full of shit.


One month later: last weekend I went to see the film La Pianiste (The Piano Player) and in that film there is a moment when la pianiste is going to have one of her most important performances as a concert piano player, then, just before her debut, one of her friends wishes to her: "Merde" (Shit) and that made me think immediately about the "Mierda" (shit) writings all over the Impressions exhibition in Barcelona. I misunderstood the intention of the one who did it, because suddenly I remembered that theatre people in Spain, and it seems that artists in France and Austria too, they use the expression "shit" or "a lot of shit" as a way of wishing the best to the artists on the opening day. This fact made me reflect about how the way we feel in a particular moment, can transform reality or the intentions of the others towards us. I was living a strange period in my life: my father died two weeks after September 11. That day I started to feel strangely ill. I lost all my strength during the next two months and I was very negative about everything, especially about life, so it's easy to understand why I identified with the negative sense of that word, because I felt like that. Anyway, I'm recovered now, and at the end of my visit to Impressions I didn't realize that, but now I can see that Impressions was a kind of a turning point for me. So "A lot of shit" to you all.

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