Yoko Ono

odyssey of a cockroach


Exploration of Odyssey of a Cockroach by luke kurtis

"The lowly cockroach is the Einstein of the insect world."
-Jon Gudegast, entomologist

The Cockroach: New York City's most reviled resident. And yet, perhaps, it is the most resilient among us. It is for this reason that Yoko Ono has chosen the cockroach as the theme of her current gallery exhibition, Odyssey Of A Cockroach, at New York's Deitch Projects. The idea of the cockroach, as an insect in general, isn't as far removed from Ono's work as you might at first suspect. Her 1970 film Fly depicts various flies exploring a nude female body. And fly, both as a work and a concept, is also directly related to many other facets of Ono's work. Also, in 1998, the Serge Ziegler Galerie of Zürich, Switzerland hosted Ono's solo show Crickets: Works from '58 - '98. So, there are plenty of precedents that immediately contextualize Odyssey Of A Cockroach within Ono's oeuvre.

But the show isn't about insects as much as it is about human experience. By "decid[ing] to be a cockroach for a day" (qtd. from the press release), Ono is, in effect, making an attempt to look at human culture, here represented by New York City, as an "outsider". Certainly, no perfectly objective stance can be assumed-and I think someone as clearly post-modern as Yoko would agree-but perfect objectivity isn't the point. Different perspectives, even if highly subjective, can help provide clarity in any given situation. And that is what Ono is getting at here.

The gallery itself is not new to Ono. In 1998, she held Ex It at Deitch Projects. The space-which is basically a large garage-has since been slightly renovated, yet still retains the rustic atmosphere that so complimented Ex It. And like Ex It, Odyssey Of A Cockroach is a singular, conceptual installation piece. Indeed, this type of work is most conducive to the gallery. The very tall walls of the entire gallery are covered in monumental reproductions of Ono's photographs of various city scenes in New York. This provides the visual backdrop of the entire installation, as well as contextualizes certain thematic elements.

When entering the space, the first object one encounters is what, initially, seems to be merely a large, silver cage. Rectangular in shape, one end is raised, allowing the visitor to enter. The far side of the cage contains a haphazard pile of books (in effect, this configuration of books is not dissimilar to certain past installations of Ono's Cleaning Piece, 1996). Hanging along the sides of the cage-both on the inside and the outside-are various posters, some familiar Ono staples (i.e., the infamous bloodstained glasses image from the From My Window series of 1981, and the equally well known War Is Over poster first shown in 1969). As for the cage itself… we'll let that rest for a moment.

To the right of the large cage is a simple, yet somewhat perplexing, piece. There is a large rug stretched across the floor. Situated on one end of this rug is a large, full-length mirror frame-only a frame (mirrors a common Ono motif, i.e., Exhibit P: mirror (1993) of Ono's Family Album series, the early Self Portrait (1965), and A Box of Smile, first created in 1967). A similar piece is found on a small upper level of the gallery. This time we find a very stylized vanity with mirror (but, again, only the frame of the mirror is present). However, the chair that accompanies the vanity is mounted with a small mirror (that, this time, is present). But what of the "missing" mirrors? The reflection one usually expects to find is gone. So, on a playful level, Ono is toying with our expectations. But doesn't it also suggest that-and remember, this is all from the perspective of a cockroach-a reflection is a meaningless, vanity-laden thing? As a cockroach do we need to look at our self? What function do mirrors really provide in society?

Another repeated element of Odyssey Of A Cockroach is a table. There are three of them, all covered in maps. A few small, red pin-flags are stuck into the surface of the map. And above each table is a distinct light source (some of the lamps hang above, some sit on the table). The overall appearance is of strategy and planning for, presumably, war. This is accented by the presence of barbed wire wrapped around the gallery railing. Inkpads and stamps are also present on the tables. The stamps read, "IMAGINE PEACE". Visitors are invited to cover the maps with this stamp, to deliver a message of peace, and to-ultimately-stamp out war. Each table also contains a drawer that the viewer may open. Inside are a variety of objects. There are more stamp pads and stamps, as well as small pieces of paper. Some of them bear Ono's statement about the exhibition (which was also available in the press release), while others bear a quote from Hermann Goering, Hitler's Reich-Marshall at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II. On the floor, to the side of each table, is a large trash can/bucket filled with buttons for visitors to take, which read, "IMAGINE PEACE". You can stamp peace across the land via the maps at the show, and you can spread peace across the city as you wear the button into the streets.


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© Sari Gurney
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