(Japanese, born 1933)
In Cut Piece—one of Yoko Ono’s early performance works—the artist sat alone on a stage, dressed in her best suit, with a pair of scissors in front of her. The audience had been instructed that they could take turns approaching her and use the scissors to cut off a small piece of her clothing, which was theirs to keep. Some people approached hesitantly, cutting a small square of fabric from her sleeve or the hem of her skirt. Others came boldly, snipping away the front of her blouse or the straps of her bra. Ono remained motionless and expressionless throughout, until, at her discretion, the performance ended. In reflecting upon the experience recently, the artist said: “When I do the Cut Piece, I get into a trance, and so I don’t feel too frightened.…We usually give something with a purpose…but I wanted to see what they would take….There was a long silence between one person coming up and the next person coming up. And I said it’s fantastic, beautiful music, you know? Ba-ba-ba-ba, cut! Ba-ba-ba-ba, cut! Beautiful poetry, actually.”1
Ono debuted Cut Piece in Kyoto, in 1964, and has since reprised it in Tokyo, New York, London, and, most recently, Paris in 2003. It is the realization of what she calls a “score,” a set of written instructions that when followed result in an action, event, performance, or some other kind of experience. As with most of her work—which also encompasses music, poetry, film, sculpture, installation, paintings, and events—the participation of others is often key. Equally conceptual and physical, Cut Piece relies upon audiences’ willingness to interpret and follow the instructions outlining their role. Though participatory art is now more common, Ono was among its pioneers. In works like Cut Piece, she invites viewers to become agents in the creation of art.
1. A series of moving images, especially those recorded on film and projected onto a screen or other surface (noun); 2. A sheet or roll of a flexible transparent material coated with an emulsion sensitive to light and used to capture an image for a photograph or film (noun); 3. To record on film or video using a movie camera (verb).
A three-dimensional work of art made by a variety of means, including carving wood, chiseling stone, casting or welding metal, molding clay or wax, or assembling materials.
A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).
A term that emerged in the 1960s to describe a diverse range of live presentations by artists, including actions, movements, gestures, and choreography. Performance art is often preceded by, includes, or is later represented through various forms of video, photography, objects, written documentation, or oral and physical transmission.
A form of art, developed in the late 1950s, which involves the creation of an enveloping aesthetic or sensory experience in a particular environment, often inviting active engagement or immersion by the spectator.
Art that emerged in the late 1960s, emphasizing ideas and theoretical practices rather than the creation of visual forms. In 1967, the artist Sol LeWitt gave the new genre its name in his essay “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” in which he wrote, “The idea itself, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product.” Conceptual artists used their work to question the notion of what art is, and to critique the underlying ideological structures of artistic production, distribution, and display.
Yoko Ono’s Scores for Cut Piece
In her score for Cut Piece, Ono writes: “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.” In a second version, Ono amended the instructions slightly, indicating that “members of the audience may cut each other’s clothing. The audience may cut as long as they wish.”2
Interpreting Cut Piece
Cut Piece has inspired numerous (often conflicting) interpretations, including those offered by the artist herself. In 1967, for example, she described it as “a form of giving, giving and taking. 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.…A form of total giving as opposed to reasonable giving….”3
In 1964, Ono published a selection of her instructions in a book titled, Grapefruit. They range from humorous to poignant, and include Cut Piece. Among the many other instructions are:
Draw a map to get lost.
TOUCH POEM FOR GROUP OF PEOPLE
Touch each other.