Yoko Ono

yes yoko ono at MIT

The report and photos by Nell Beram

Press conference, MIT's List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge (10/19/01)

Hiroko, the museum's PR woman with the tremendous haircut, had asked us to arrive by 11:30 so that YES curator Alexandra Munroe could give us a short tour before the press conference began. For the first time in my life I didn't make a B-line for the free food. Translation: I was very hyper.

After registration, we were offered a press kit "with or without slides" of Yoko's work. I recalled the dream I occasionally have in which I'm in a bookstore and I'm told that everything is free. (I'm no dummy: I took the slides.) That the exhibition is both free and a mere twenty-minute walk from my apartment seems dreamlike as well.

While awaiting Alexandra's summons, I tried to mingle. I initiated a conversation with Yoko's curator, Jon Hendricks. (He's listed somewhere as her "archivist," but I've heard that he doesn't like that tag, so I'm dropping it.) I told him that I went to high school with his "son," Bracken, who was then known for, among other things, his Fluxus connection. Turns out that Bracken is Jon's (oops) nephew, not his son. I also chatted with various women who were covering YES for local papers and art magazines. I sheepishly remembered that I got a C+ in modern art. But AIU was proving an impressive credential. I noted that the "Helsinki-based" part of my description of the Web site received numerous appreciative nods.

The walk-through with the effervescent Alexandra and charming Jon was an honor but a rushed honor because we had to hurry to our seats at the press conference. Another reporter and I decided that it would be less embarrassing to sit front-row center as a unit of two. Before us was a long table on which sat the printed names Jane Farver (the museum's director), Alexandra Munroe, Yoko Ono, and Jon Hendricks.

The dignitaries assumed their seats. Yoko was utterly ravishing. I'm not merely remarking that she has a youthful appearance given her age (she's 68); I'm saying that she's an all-cylinders knockout. I was struck by her luminous skin, her dimple, and the way her face suddenly bursts into full-watt smiles. (The smiles were more plentiful during the "lecture" events; the press conference was, of course, business.)

In her brief introduction, Alexandra provided a useful synopsis: YES's two main objectives are to explore Yoko's "seminal influencing force" in the postwar era and her role in bringing Asian influences to the avant-garde art world. Then the questions began. I should say here that much of the Q & A during Yoko's three days' worth of public appearances revolved around the terrorist attacks on America, which led me to wonder-certainly not wistfully-what topic, if any, would have dominated our conversations had the attacks never happened.

Yoko was voluble and animated on the topic of the attacks, some of her answers clearly thought out in advance. She commented that on August 11, when she wrote the liner notes to her new CD, Blueprint For A Sunrise, she engaged in a bit of self-reproach: Why ruminate on the topic of war and destitution at a time when "everybody was rich"? On September 11, Yoko realized that to make her CD relevant to the day's headlines, "I don't have to do anything special." To a question regarding the difference between working for peace in the 1960s versus today, Yoko responded that "instead of fighting for peace, we should stand for peace... In the Sixties, the government... was very macho, and we were macho peaceniks." As for how John Lennon would have wanted the United States and its citizens to respond to the attacks, Yoko replied, "He was a very wise man, and he would've thought it's not right to act out of emotion." She believes that a lot of things can be done by imagining and visualization, but she commingled this metaphysical view with a bit of science-especially appropriate given her show's egghead venue: "I feel somehow close to all of us... Our stem cells are totally connected with one another." Someone asked her about the bejeweled pin resembling the American flag that she wore on her black jacket, and she told us that she had given it to Lennon when he got his green card in 1975, the year their son, Sean, was born.

A few choice moments: Someone asked Yoko (perhaps semi-confrontationally) to address the fact that YES features formerly interactive work (such as 1966's Ceiling Painting (YES Painting), the ladder that Lennon famously climbed) that is now physically off-limits to exhibition viewers. Her splendid reply: "I think you can participate conceptually." She was asked why she so often uses white in her artwork; she answered that it's "because white is a color that you can put any color on without affecting it. I'm not just talking about colors; I'm talking about thought." At one point, she admitted that she has "resistance to saying 'I am an artist,' because I think all of us are." She went on to say that she believes her new CD has "a very strong power of healing for the post-September 11 society. But I can say the same thing about all art." She had a prescription for us all in the form of an instruction: "Let your heart dance. Do one thing that will make your heart dance every day, or [that will make] somebody else's heart dance. If you do that for three months, your life will change.

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© Nell Beram / AIU 2001

© Sari Gurney
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