Interview with Artist/Musician Yoko Ono
February 9, 2011 § 1 Comment
When Yoko Ono first met John Lennon in 1966, she had already won critical acclaim as Conceptual artist, produced a long roster of international exhibitions and happenings, released several books (“Grapefruit” was just recently re-released by Simon and Schuster) had her first child and dumped her first husband. In the years since Lennon’s tragic death in 1980, she has continued on as an active participant in the art and music worlds, creating fascinating work at an astounding rate.
She currently has several exhibitions showing worldwide, as well as a remix album of her release “Walking On Thin Ice” which features re-mixes by Pet Shop Boys, Danny Tenaglia and Felix Da Housecat, among others.
Despite these impressive facts, however, profiles of Ono are too often relegated to her days as a Beatles bride. But, as we found out, there is more to Yoko Ono than merely John Lennon.
Q: I’m always interested in talking to artists of any kind, because I think that ultimately the decision to become creatively active takes some amount of courage, particularly for a woman and particularly at the time you first began experimenting with your ideas. You came from a very conservative Japanese family, which I imagine made everything a bit more difficult as well.
A: I agree that it’s difficult, but I don’t think you make a choice to be an artist. There was no decision for me. I’ve been expressing myself this way since I can remember. As a child I distinctly remember feeling that I had these great ideas and I remember just innately wanting to share them with the world. The first idea, the first art piece I ever did, was when I was four. I cut the seed of a pear in half and the seed of an apple in half in put those two halves together and planted the seed, hoping a very strange tree might grow. And I never stopped.
But I never thought, “I’m going to be an artist”. When I actually began to become successful in the art world I made it a point to say, ‘I am a dilettante, I am not a professional artist”, which is true. I never wanted to be a professional artist; I think that’s limiting.
Q: In what way?
A: You get limited by that institutional idea. I never went to art school and I never thought of going to an art school. It was just a way of manifesting these ideas I had. Ideas came to me that I needed to express. And if I didn’t express them, I would feel, well, “sick” is the only way I can put it. I think many people, really all people, feel that way. Creativity is innate and it manifests itself in so many forms. It needs to come out somehow or it destroys you in some way.
Q: So you feel that everyone is inherently creative?
A: Everyone is an artist and a genius, I think. If we don’t choose to limit ourselves then we are totally accomplished. I think people place limitations on each other and on ourselves. There is a great fear of expressing ourselves, of making that creativity happen. I think we find it to be quite scary and frightening and I think we feel, in some ways that something terrible might happen, that there is some danger in doing something you believe in. It’s very sad that things are that way. But I think it is changing.
Q: When you’re working, do you find that the idea leads you the genre best suited to manifest it?
A: For me, there are many ways are working; I do think the art leads you. For certain ideas, yes, there are certain ways to make them manifest.
Q: This is the women’s issue of the magazine. I’m wondering if there are any female artists who particularly inspire you.
A: There are so many women artists doing incredible things, I wouldn’t want to single just one of them out.
Q: It’s difficult, because talking specifically about women, seems somehow-
A: I know, but I think that the issue needs to be explored. Women’s place in the world is still an issue, but I think it’s getting better of course. We’re getting wiser, there’s more awareness in general. We’re having to redefine roles It’s a very male world, but we have to find the inverse of that power, the feminine power.
Q: You were at the epicenter of some of the most volatile and culturally dynamic moments of the last Century. What is your view of what is happening at the moment? Have we progressed or regressed?
A: Oh definitely progressed. I think we’ve all become wiser. You know, the kind of philosophical discussion that is happening right now, even on the level of casual encounter, is amazing to me. Even on the most basic level, let’s just say the success of self-help books on philosophy and spirituality and the availability and popularity of these publications, that’s incredible progress. At one time those ideas were only for the very, very privileged- privileged men actually. Which just shows you how wise the world is becoming. I do think that yes, it’s true that we are very unwise in some ways, we are killing each other of course but on the other hand, we are become wiser in so many ways.
Q: I do think people are becoming more and more hungry for the sort of knowledge and ideas you mentioned.
A: Yes and the kind of people who are hungry for that are the kind of people who were hungry for bread at one time. It’s only matter of time. In the Sixties, we were like newborns. Our eyes had just opened. Now we are growing, we are children. The amazing thing is that we could live in the world together peacefully, feed the world, shelter the world. We have that capability both spiritually and technologically.
Q: So what’s stopping us?
A: Confusion and fear. Without the confusion and fear we would see each other and ourselves clearly. And without the fear, we would not be afraid of being one.
Q: What are the practical ways we can attempt to make that happen?
A: We have to fight both of these elements, this fear and confusion. Confusion has become a state of mind, more of less; we’re trained to be confused. Quite simply, the people in power are keeping us down, keeping us docile and keeping us consuming with this confusion. It’s a cultural confusion and it is deliberate. And fear is a way of keeping us down as well. Fear is instilled in us by other people, ‘be very scared of that or this. Don’t move!’
Q: Right now, that seems particularly relevant. Over the last two years, fear has obviously been utilized as a method of manipulation.
A: It’s so clear and obvious isn’t it? It’s always been like that but never in such a very obvious way. I think we are actually learning from it and that it is kind of a blessing in a way, in the sense that this is happening in such a blatant manner. It has been happening all the time and so many people were unaware, but now, there is no subtlety. It’s become glaringly obvious. Now we have to gain the power to overcome it. Any change is pushed by these extremes. It’s the opposite side of the coin. The coin has two sides, which is very interesting. We’re in the same boat, together and the opposite power is standing up and moving back and forth and there is the danger of toppling the boat. Of capsizing. But in order to balance that, we have to stand up as well; otherwise we won’t get to shore. In other words instead of criticizing the people who are being violent, who are in power, we need to put ourselves in a position to create our own power. If you think about it, they’re very intelligent, in that they just totally ignore us, they just don’t even have a conversation with us. Which is very very clever, because if they actually begin to have a dialogue with us, it depletes their energy, it weakens them. So they don’t want to do it. They take one idea and they focus all their energy on it. What we’re doing is the worst, which is that we’re standing the sidelines, criticizing them, instead of insisting on engaging them in a conversation.
Q: I think it seems safe on the sidelines and I think that in many ways people don’t bother trying to engage in that conversation because they feel their voice won’t be heard. There’s a certain helplessness there.
A: Of course. It’s very dangerous ultimately to take any sort of action. But there can’t be fear. Fear is what we have to overcome, even the fear of not being heard. But, despite what’s happening, I do think it’s much better now than in the Sixties. I think in those days, yes there was ‘flower power’ and it was time to wake up, but in many ways, as I said before, we were like embryos or just out of the womb. Whereas now, I think we have to be more mature about it. I don’t think marching and waving the flag is not going to be sufficient. It’s like waving the flag to our daddies, demanding attention. ‘Daddy, take care of us!’ No we don’t want them to take care of us, we don’t have to have them take care of us. It’s time we took care of ourselves. It’s also time to admit that we can never change our parents.
We can come together, we are coming together. On a subconscious level we are already together. Although we are refusing that idea, because, like most children I think (and we are like children) we want to independent. We cling to that idea of ‘I’m not like you, therefore I’m not with you’. That fear of being conquered is there but we have to overcome it. By being united we’re not going to be part of someone or something else – we’re still going to be definitely me and you – but on a higher level, we are going to be all together.
Q: How do we achieve that?
A: It begins on a very day-to-day level, of knowing yourself. Knowing that you are powerful, inside. Power is not something we should be afraid of. Power is great, power is energy. And in terms of energy, the most important energy is human spiritual energy and when I say spiritual, I feel like have to be very careful, I don’t mean religious, I mean the energy of the mind, the energy that exists within us. If you’re able to tap into that energy, then you’re part of the network and really, your power is absolutely limitless.
Originally published in Flaunt magazine