Yoko Ono arrives, challenging our perspectives

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Yoko Ono arrives, challenging our perspectives

“Hammer a nail in the center of a piece of glass,” reads the fragile, gray text on a white piece of paper framed on a white wall. “Imagine sending the cracked portions to addresses chosen arbitrarily. Memo the addresses with the shapes of the cracked portions.”
The words may sound like nonsense. And that’s exactly the point, as the work of Yoko Ono, an artist-peace activist and the wife of the late John Lennon, instructs us to dream, believe and create the untold part of her stories and fill them with our imagined reality.
Like the series of text filling the entrance walls of Rodin Gallery titled “Instructions” or the billboard art she posted at Times Squares with Mr. Lennon that read “War is Over -- If You Want It” -- to imagine for Ono is an act of inviting her audience to shift and challenge their perceptions about the world.
The artist notes: “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”
Despite the poetic, fragile nature of Ms. Ono’s works, which borrow a tradition from Zen Buddhism and haiku aesthetics, she speaks to a grand audience about some of the most complicated, aggressive issues about our lives, such as the history of war and violence.
Yet her response to these issues is expressed with such optimism in an almost nihilistically simple form ― as seen in her exhibition title “Yes, Yoko Ono” -- that you begin to question whether her statements are just girlish innocence or utilitarian confidence.
It’s hard to judge, especially when hearing Ms. Ono speak about her work.
“It’s about saying yes to life,” Ms. Ono said yesterday about the exhibition’s title at a preview held at Rodin Gallery. “It’s about saying yes to love, yes to peace, yes to all.”
Yet through her works, which always seem to tackle multiple connotations, audiences discover something very profound that brings a personal experience to art.
In “Ceiling,” one of Ms. Ono’s earliest installations, the viewer is invited to climb a white ladder and discover a tiny block of letters beneath a sheet of a glass that reads “yes” through a magnifying glass, heightening the intimacy between the artist and the audience.
With “Play it by Trust,” she displays a chess set with all white pieces, complicating the viewer’s perception between which is your piece or the enemy’s. At the Venice Biennale this month, she placed a rubber stamp on the hands of members of the audience. The stamp read “imagine.”
“The message is the same,” she said. “Imagine peace.”
Many of Ms. Ono’s works are placed in specific circumstances of world history, particularly concerning the history of war and violence.
Shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Ms. Ono took out a full-page ad in the New York Times and put out posters in Times Square to spread a message of peace. More recently, she posted the words of her late husband’s classic song “Imagine” ― a song that Lennon wrote after being inspired by Ms. Ono’s work titled “Grapefruit” ― at Piccadilly Circus in London as another call for harmony among the peoples of the world.
Now the video documentation of her peace demonstrations is being exhibited halfway around the world, in Seoul, and how a Korean audience responds to her work ― at a time when political turbulence and economic slowdowns prevail over the country’s peace ― would be anybody’s guess.

by Park Soo-mee

“Yes Yoko Ono” runs until Sept. 14 at the Rodin Gallery in Samsung Life Building. The artist will give a lecture there today at 2 p.m. For more information call (02) 750-7818.
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