YOKO ONO – CUT PIECE

By Madeline Bocaro ©

Scissors are a useful tool, but rarely are they used in the name of art. There are some notable instances; Wallace Berman, 1950s (Assemblage), Brion Gysin, 1960s (Collage) William Burroughs, 1970s (Literature), shadowed by David Bowie (Lyrics), Edward Scissorhands, 1980s (Landscaping) and of course, Yoko Ono.

Yoko had originally written Cut Piece as a conceptual score in 1962 with options (either spontaneous or circumstantial), in the same respect as John Cage’s infamous “4′ 33” score. Cut Piece eventually became a recurring live event, performed by Yoko herself, and by others.

 

Cut Piece (first version for single performer):

Performer sits on stage with a pair of scissors in front of him. It is announced that members of the audience may come on stage – one at a time – to cut a small piece of the performer’s clothing to take with them. Performer remains motionless throughout the piece. Piece ends at the performer’s option.

Cut Piece  (Grapefruit)
Performer sits on stage with a pair of scissors placed in front of her and asking the audience to come up on the stage, one by one, and cut a portion of her clothing (anywhere they like) and take it. The performer, however, does not have to be a woman.

Yoko reverses the role of the artist projecting his or her vision. Cut Piece allows the audience their own interpretation via participation – to physically take a piece from the work – essentially the cloak of the artist – who is completely unmasked and vulnerable.

“…the author’s ego is contained in traditional works. It means to thrust ego upon the audience. 
I have always wanted to produce work without such ego by standing at a spiritual state of perfect selflessness…
My feelings were, to not thrust the thing I chose upon others, and no matter what it is, please take away the part you like, and please take the part you like with you by cutting it off. “
– y.o. – Tada no Atashi (Just Me!) 1986

For each performance of Cut Piece, Yoko sacrificed her best clothing. On one occasion she wore a black dress from London’s famous Biba boutique. Wearing good clothing elevated the importance of the work.

“In those days, I didn’t have many clothes, and I made sure to I pick the one I loved.

– Yoko Ono, Twitter

The Maysles brothers captured Yoko’s March 1965 Carnegie Recital Hall performance of Cut Piece on film. Yoko sits in the polite Japanese position (seiza, which is assumed in formal settings), with her legs folded beneath her. One by one, audience members gingerly approach the stage. At the start, the scissors are ritualistically laid out on the floor, glistening in the dim light like a Samurai sword in front of the kneeling, sacrificial artist. The stage is set; artist, viewers and a dangerous sharp object. Anything can happen. The first person picks up the scissor and selects a preferred part of Yoko’s clothing to snip. The scissors are taken by the next person, and the unmasking continues as the audience performs the strip tease. There is nervousness, titillation and giggling.

Yoko has the opposing perspective. Blades come moving toward her, dangerously close to her face. Which garment will be cut away next? There goes the bra strap. She sees it from the utmost center.

“The audience was quiet and still, and I felt that everyone was holding their breath. While I was doing it, I was staring into space. I felt kind of like I was praying. I also felt that I was willingly sacrificing myself.”

Yoko looks uneasy, yet determined and prepared to take whatever comes, knowing that she is giving her all. The art becomes (inter)action. The unpredictability of events is nerve wracking. – the situation could become potentially aggressive or violent. But in most instances, things proceed calmly (except during the first performance in Kyoto, when a man raised the scissors in threat, but then calmly cut a piece of Yoko’s dress). The artist, the clothing and the scissors are props for the audience’s performance.

“Instead of giving the audience what the artist chooses to give, the artist gives what the audience chooses to take. That is to say, you cut and take whatever part you want; that was my feeling about its purpose. I went onto the stage wearing the best suit I had. To think that it would be OK to use the cheapest clothes because it was going to be cut anyway would be wrong; it’s against my intentions. I was poor at the time, and it was hard. This event I repeated in several different places, and my wardrobe got smaller and smaller. However, when I sat on stage in front of the audience, I felt that this was my genuine contribution. This is how I really felt.”  –  y.o. Just Me!  1974

The ultimate inspiration for Cut Piece was a famous story told to Yoko as a child about the selflessness of Buddha.

In 1967, Yoko stated in a London article, “…It was a kind of criticism against artists, who are always giving what they want to give. I wanted people to take whatever they wanted to, so it was very important to say you can cut wherever you want to. It is a form of giving that has a lot to do with Buddhism. There’s a small allegorical story about Buddha. He left his castle with his wife and children and was walking towards a mountain to go into meditation. As he was walking along, a man said that he wanted Buddha’s children because he wanted to sell them or something. So Buddha gave him his children. Then someone said he wanted Buddha’s wife and he gave him his wife. Someone calls that he is cold, so Buddha gives him his clothes. Finally a tiger comes along and says he wants to eat him and Buddha lets the tiger eat him. And in the moment the tiger eats him, it became enlightened or something. That’s a form of total giving as opposed to reasonable giving like “logically you deserve this” or “I think this is good, therefore I am giving this to you.”

“Cut piece was ritualistic and ceremonial.

Nuns understood it because they are used to giving.

All of us have energy but not all of us give it. It’s easy to change the world.”

– Yoko, November 2014 Lecture at Paley Center

Yoko told Robert Enright in 1994 that at the time, “I didn’t have any notion of feminism.” but later accepted the feminist associations about Cut Piece that she had not originally intended. She became a radical feminist soon after. Ono’s 1970 film Fly, was more of a feminist statement.

Yoko had also applied the idea of cutting to film…

FILM SCRIPT 3

Ask audience to cut the part of the image on the screen that they don’t like.

Supply scissors

– from SIX FILM SCRIPTS BY YOKO ONO, Tokyo, June 1964

The catalog for Stone (a multimedia collaboration at Judson Church Gallery, New York with John Hendricks and other artists) included Yoko’s summary of Cut Piece.

“People went on cutting the parts they do not like of me.

Finally there was only the stone remained of me that was in me

but they were still not satisfied and wanted to know what it’s like in the stone.”
– Yoko,  March 1966

 

“Anything could have happened – I wouldn’t do that now. At the time, I had this feeling – that I still hold – that art perceives everything. When I was on stage, I would never think in terms of, ‘Is it going to be dangerous for me?’. When I was on a stage, I always felt I was confronting gods and goddesses within the audience – that within them were gods and goddesses.”
– Yoko, Seconds Magazine – 1995, Issue No. 36

 

Performance artist Charlotte Moorman performed Yoko’s Cut Piece hundreds of times. Charlotte made a gift to Yoko of all the scraps of all the pieces of fabric that had been cut away during her many performances of Cut Piece over the years.

“One hundred years from now, it’s Yoko Ono the world is going to remember. 
Not John Lennon or the Beatles.”

– Charlotte Moorman

See Charlotte performing Cut Piece  in 1989– with a hug from Yoko

@ 20:00 in the film clip below:

After Charlotte’s passing, Nam June Paik made a documentary film, Topless Cellist(1995).

Watch here: (29:00)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aeH9FdtAqY

In 1992, Yoko performed her own work, Promise Piece at the Whitney Museum in a memorial tribute to Charlotte.

 

Charlotte Moorman – Cut Piece @ NYU 1967 / 

Charlotte Moorman’s “Cut Piece” performances installed in ‘A Feast of Astonishments’

The amazing performance artist Echo Morgan performed Cut Piece at the opening of Yoko’s exhibition Peace Is Power on April 3, 2019 in Leipzig Germany.

Echo: “I made a promise to myself not to participate in other artist’s work; not to react someone else’s performance after a heartfelt and inspiring conversation with John Court in Beijing. When Alfred Weidinger, the director of the Museum of Fine arts Leipzig approached me with the idea of performing Yoko’s Cut Piece. I fall into deep thoughts.
At the end of the performance, Echo used the scissors to cut her own hair at the end, when there was nothing else left to cut… https://www.dailystar.co.uk/…/yoko-ono-performance…
Another statement from the artist:
Echo Morgan: “I met Yoko in 2009, at a design boutique in Notting-hill gate. Feathers, where I have worked throughout my study years in London. I helped her chose few outfits: jackets and shirts and 5 hats. While packing the clothes, I said to her: My husband gave me a piece of broken #vase in 2003, he said it was from your live performance in Tate Modern and you invited the audiences to put the vase back together in 2013, we got married in 2004 and we have been cherish that piece of vase and really look forward to rebuilding it with her. Yoko smiled and asked me for pen and paper. She wrote down: Dear Luke and Echo, I give you a sun. Love, Yoko Ono. She even drew a smiley sun.
2011, I separated with Luke, went to the Royal College of Art and became a performance artist. Same year, I did a performance: I Buried My Loss, together with many sentimental letters and photos I left the note from Yoko and her piece of vase behind. The only thing I kept was his surname: Morgan.
As a pioneer in conceptual and performanceart, Yoko’s work has moved and influenced many people. Including myself! I do feel deeply honoured to be approached to perform her Cut Piece at the opening of YOKO ONO. PEACEisPOWER at @mdbkleipzig.
So for one time only I will break my own promise, this is my tribute and love for Yoko’s art and life. I do believe it is a fate that I have to take this offer. There for, I would like to take this opportunity and mark this performance as my last performance under the name echomorgan”
Echo Morgan will from this day forward be known by her given name, Xie Rong.

See my chat with Echo Morgan all about her Cut Piece performance here:

https://madelinex.com/?p=6104

* Wallace Berman and William Burroughs appear on the The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover.

 

Cut Piece Performances by Yoko Ono:

July 20, 1964 Kyoto, Yamaichi Concert Hall with Anthony Cox

August 11, 1964 Tokyo, Sogetsu Art Center – Strip-Tease Show

March 1965 New York City, Carnegie Recital Hall – New Works of Yoko Ono

Sept. 28 & 29, 1966 London, Africa Center – DIAS presents Two Evenings with Yoko Ono

September 2003 Paris*, Ranelagh Theater (performed by Yoko at age 70)

“Against ageism, against racism, against sexism and against violence.”

*For the Paris performance, Yoko wore a designer dress by John Galliano.

“She is bold, brave, a pirate of people’s preconceived perceptions, and a role model for artistic anarchy. I will even forgive her if she cut up one of my designs in the name of art.:

– John Galliano – Vogue, 1997

 

Notable Re-Enactments:

September 1966 – 4th Avant Garde Art Festival organized by Charlotte Moorman, New York, Central Park – performed by two men. + various subsequent performances by Charlotte Moorman

April 1967 – London, Alexandria Palace performed by model Carol Mann. (Directed as

part of the 14-Hour Technicolor Dream Extravaganza)

Fall 1968 – London, Judson Gallery by John Hendricks

2012 – Waco, TX, by Baylor University Art & Theater students

2013 London, Meltdown Festival (curated by Yoko Ono) – by Peaches

April  3, 2019 – Yoko Ono: Peace Is Power exhibition, Leipzig Germany – by Echo Morgan (now Xie Rong)

Another story (about the Cut Piece cloth fragments)

Read Here:

https://barbarabrownie.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/cut_piece_yoko_ono/?fbclid=IwAR0g_ndSQvk4reFSOp5ul5XNTQRIVCvMqOBFGyWpz8cUe0ufQ2QoF5_9FrI

yoko_ono_1965__sketch_fanart__by_mikeemee16aa_d9x9tec-pre

 

 

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