Into Performance: Japanese Women Artists in New York

By Midori Yoshimoto | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
The Message
Is the Medium:
The Communication Art
of Yoko Ono

I realized then, that it was not enough in life to just
wake up in the morning, eat, talk, walk, and go to sleep.
Art and music were necessities. But they were not
enough, either. We needed new rituals, in order to keep
our sanity.

—Yoko Ono, e-mail to the author,
September 13, 1999

Shortly after turning twenty years old, Yoko Ono discovered art out of necessity. “Art is a means of survival,” Ono claims repeatedly today when reflecting back on the role of art in her life from early on.1 Artmaking helped her overcome many hardships that she encountered throughout her life. During World War II, for example, she often played a game with her siblings to imagine foods that they could not obtain. Using one’s imagination to find hope in life became the point of departure for Ono’s art. One of her earliest artistic expressions, Lighting Piece (1955), took the form of a performance as well as an “instruction” consisting of simple words. Although this piece directly grew out of Ono’s personal ritual to calm herself, later—when its instruction was written and performed in front of audience—the piece became Ono’s message to people, to encourage them to contemplate their lives.

As evident in Ono’s concept during the 1970s—that “the message is the

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