As part of the joint program of the Ad Marginem publishing house and the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, the Russian language has released A Brief History of New Music - a collection of conversations between curator Hans Ulrich Obrist and musicians and composers of the second half of the 20th century. Among the heroes of Obrist are Brian Eno, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez, Yoko Ono and many others. Life around publishes a fragment of an interview with artist and widow John Lennon, taken in New York in 2001.
HUO: You have always been a prolific author. Your creative imagination was facilitated by the instructions you invented (this refers to the collection of poetic miniatures Ono "Grapefruit. Book of instructions and drawings" 1964. - Note ed.)?
YO: John Lennon once told a journalist: "Someone just has diarrhea, and Yoko has diarrhea of thought." In fact, I seem to be tuning in to some kind of cosmic wave and drawing ideas from it. All the time I was desperate that most of them I could not put into practice. The instructions allowed me to shift the responsibility for the final form of the work to others. And make room in my head full of ideas. Earlier - sometimes for financial reasons, sometimes because of technical difficulties - I could not realize all the plans that overwhelmed me. But I could write instructions. It set me free. I became bolder and bolder, and the instructions became more conceptual. In the world of conceptual art, you don’t need to think about how to physically translate your idea.
HUO: As a result, you did not have to set absolutely any framework for your projects.
YO: Exactly. When I began to write instructions for the works, I found that I could not adhere to two or three dimensions. In your head you can create all six if you wish. You can cross an apple and a desk. In the real world, this is physically impossible, but possible in a conceptual way. You can cross them and do it as you please. So I got the idea that painting and sculpture does not have to be static. They can move and grow as if alive. In those days, artists and musicians were reluctant to let others interfere in their work. They did not like to let anyone touch their works. Even the public did not understand how an artist can allow someone to participate in his creative process: "You want to say, did you let someone do it instead of you?" Bad times. Only the author was obliged to work on the work and keep it in its original form. But I am a child of war. Life, transient and changeable, pushed me forward. It seemed to me that static existence is contrary to nature. Time or political factors destroy paintings and sculptures - this is a fact. I knew: no matter how you want it, works of art cannot remain unchanged. Therefore, as an artist, I decided not to try to hold on to what is impossible to hold on, but to go to positive changes: I let the viewer into the process and let my work grow through it.
HUO: It turns out that your creativity also has no time frame?
It was unusually live at that time in new yorkwhere a whole school of artists and musicians was born, each of which has become a kind of revolutionary
HUO: Your idea can be applied to music, because its interpretation during performance is also participation in the creative process.
YO: Yes, but even the musicians then believed that it was necessary to play as close to the score as possible. And I wanted to give my work to others unfinished, so that they complement them, and not just repeat. They were not used to it then.
In those days, most authors could not allow the thought that someone would modify or supplement their work. For me, this was also a difficult step. I am a perfectionist. I also did not want to let anyone into my work.
In a way, I stepped over myself. I did this for my own growth, to get rid of artistic egocentrism. And I felt like I was taking a step on behalf of the entire elite creative community: I abandoned my ego. I also had to adhere to my instructions for the works, but this is still not the same as the finished score. The instructions give performers more freedom of action and much more room for self-expression.
HUO: When did you meet John Cage?
YO: Steve Wolpe introduced me to Cage in the late 1950s. Thanks to Cage, I gained confidence that I was moving in the right direction. In a world called “avant-garde,” no one considered my ideas extravagant. I did just what they encouraged. My eyes seemed to open. Cage's predecessor composers - Henry Cowell, Volpe and Edgar Varez - also need to be remembered for their talent and courage. Even then it seemed that they were suffering from oblivion, to which they were doomed by the appearance of Cage. I still remember them warmly. As you know, Frank Zappa studied with Varez and always spoke highly of him. I have seen everyone - both composers and artists. It was unusual to live at that time in New York, where a whole school of artists and musicians was born, each of which became a revolutionary in its own way.
HUO: There is an interesting connection between your work and the work of Olivier Messiana, who studied ornithology and transcribed bird singing. He said that "birds are the greatest musicians on the planet." Could you tell us more about transcription of sounds?
YO: When I suddenly realized that it was impossible to accurately record the birdsong, I had the idea of instructions. Awareness of the limited capabilities of the score led me to instructions as an alternative to the usual classical western notation.
HUO: The description sounds like open notations. The concept of open transcription came to your mind even before you met Cage. What about Duchamp?
YO: Do you know what I thought? This may sound arrogant, but it seems to me that I went further than his idea of "found objects." He settled on them. And I said: "Here, I give you something to which you can put your hand. You can change the structure, you can change the internal order." I will tell an interesting story. I had a painting called "Painting to Be Stepped On" ("Painting to Be Stepped On", 1960) ...
HUO: I remember. "Leave a piece of canvas or an unfinished painting on the floor or on the ground in the street."
YO:... yes, and we did some shows with La Monte Young on Chambers Street, as you know. Cage brought wonderful people to them: Peggy Guggenheim, Duchamp and Max Ernst ...
HUO: When it was?
YO: The first concert took place in December 1960. It was snowing, and it is amazing that John Cage, David Tudor and all the “beautiful people” from Stony Point arrived in this weather. Even on a fine day from Stony Point, two to three hours drive to Chambers Street. Our series of concerts gained fame and popularity, very quickly and only thanks to word of mouth. And at one of the concerts Duchamp and Max Ernst arrived.
I thought, maybe Marcel will notice my "Picture that needs to be stepped on." But he did not notice. He looked around, and for a second his gaze lingered on her, but I do not think he understood. And I was too shy and too proud to go up and explain to him what was the point.
HUO: Tell us about how the audience directly participated in the creation of your works, added or removed something from them. I was at your exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall in London a few years ago, at which you mainly asked the audience to add something to your work "Yoko Ono and Fluxus" / "Yoko Ono and Fluxus", 1997. What is the essence of this addition or reduction ideas? She, in my opinion, is very interesting in connection with the readymade.
YO: Everything was just like that: I indicated in the instructions that something needs to be added to the picture or removed from it, or imagined in my head. One can imagine things in the mind that cannot be physically realized, and this is also very interesting. You can mentally mix the two pictures. It is also interesting that everyone does it his own way. You can impose completely different things that exist in different dimensions, such as a picture and a sculpture. Mix the house with the wind ...
When John and I tried to get out of the country due to immigration problems, we founded a country called Nutopia, every resident of which is her ambassador, and we including
HUO: House with the wind? How beautiful. The idea of the instruction goes through the red thread through your struggle for peace, which in the current situation is again extremely relevant. When we met with you for the first time, many years ago, you said one thing that I have remembered for life and consider it very important. You said that the whole world is filled with the industry of war, and our task is to create the industry of the world to the best of our ability.
YO: The perfectionist in me is still alive. The perfectionist’s problem is that you limit yourself in some ideal way and do not accept anything that does not fit into it. I often go to exhibitions and think to myself: "What a nightmarish artist, what a bunch of garbage!" But gradually my attitude changes. The world is divided into two industries: the war industry and the peace industry. People from the military industry are extremely united by their common idea. They want to wage war, kill and make money. There is no one arguing among themselves, they are all together. So, they are a huge force. And in a peaceful industry, people like me are idealists and perfectionists. Therefore, they cannot find a common language with each other. They constantly quarrel in pursuit of their "ideal idea." They ask themselves and others: “How can peace be achieved? Of course, the way I think. And you are wrong about this ...” But if instead we tried to accept and begin to value each other, to forgive our differences ... After all we are all in the same industry in the world. We must support each other. By rallying, we could make a peaceful industry as strong as a military one, or even stronger. Only then would we be able to stop wars and achieve world peace. The military industry generates income and therefore flourishes. From an economic and financial point of view, it is much more profitable for many to wage war. That's all. So we must stop the feud and come forward at the same time, as a united front.
HUO: We must "do it!"
YO: That's it, we have to unite and "do it." Instead of “You are just a florist,” we should say: “How wonderful that you are a florist. Thank you for treating flowers so beautifully,” understand? Our energy should be directed to caring and mutual respect, and not attempts to change each other.
HUO: This is an interesting thought from the point of view of the next question I wanted to ask you. The word "utopia" in recent years has lost its original meaning and has become associated with totalitarianism, with a regime in which differences between people are erased, but there are other utopias and their other aspects. Let us return to the original idea of utopia, not as a system of depersonalization, unification and totalitarianism, but as an engine of change.
YO: Right. I don’t know if you heard, but once, when John and I tried to get out of the country from the United States due to immigration problems, we founded a country called Nootopia, each resident of which is her ambassador, including us. We called a press conference, pulled white shawls from our pockets in front of the journalists and said: "We surrender to the world." We do not fight for peace, but surrender to the world - this is important.
HUO: Did you have your manifest or declaration?
YO: We wrote the Nutopia declaration on the inside of the cover of the album "Mind Games" (1973). This year, an exhibition of artists will be held in Venice, where they invited me and said that I should represent the country. I thought and decided: I will represent Nutopia. In my opinion, this is a suitable event for participation on behalf of a conceptual country. I try to involve as many people as possible in my work.
HUO: What else can you tell about Nutopia?
YO: This is a conceptual country, and we are all its citizens. Have you noticed on the back door of my apartment a small sign "Embassy of Nutopia"? John offered to hang her there. I will show you later.
HUO: Do you have your own symbolism? And other embassies?
YO: We did not want to politicize and regulate our concept. We are all embassies. We are all ambassadors.
HUO: You used many means to express your peaceful views, including music, but one of your most famous acts was "bed protest." Could you tell me about your “In bed for peace” campaign as part of a strategy of peaceful resistance?
YO: Our "bed protest" was a theatrical act. We turned our manifesto into a performance, and it had an effect. We are artists, and this is our way of expression. It seems to me that we have achieved something. For example, the famous song "Give Peace a Chance" (1969) proved that music can change the world. Music can be recognized in love, or you can draw attention to the political situation.
HUO: How many times have you held a "bed protest"?
YO: Twice in 1969. The first time in Amsterdam, the second in Montreal. And never in New York. Although, for some reason, many people think that we arranged it here. We wanted, but could not. Therefore, we chose Canada to convey our message to the States from it.
HUO: However, the event was so publicized that it didn't matter where you really were.
YO: True, no one remembers where it was! We can say we have done this all over the world.
HUO: To put your message in general terms, you sought to rise above geographical, cultural, sexual, social and any other differences between people.
YO: It is very important to allow people to be different. This is what we were trying to say. We felt that for this thought we are very symbolic figures. John and I come from very different places. We are man and woman, we are from the West and from the East. We represent completely different sectors of society. We have a diametrically different origin. That is, in a sense, we are complete opposites of each other, but at the same time we are a single whole. We recognized the symbolism of our personalities and knew how people hate us for this. We went beyond the designated positions for us. We were together not only because of this, but our union seemed magical to us, because we managed to love and fully understand each other, despite all the differences.
HUO: Since we are talking about utopias, I would like to ask you about your personal utopia, about your non-embodied ideas - projects too small or large-scale for implementation, projects forgotten or not censored.
YO: My best non-embodied project is the one that comes to my mind tomorrow. I do not like to look back at the past. When I was offered to arrange a retrospective exhibition, I asked: "Why? Aren't they being carried out posthumously?" I am against such an undertaking. In the end, they decided not to call it a retrospective. But, essentially, the exhibition at the Japanese Society Center, YES Yoko Ono, New York, 2000, was just that. If people are interested, then I agree to say: "Why not?" Especially when you consider that most of my works were few seen at the time of their creation.