YOKO ONO - CUT PIECE
by Madeline Bocaro
Scissors are a useful tool, but rarely are they used in the name of art. I can name only a few instances; William Burroughs (shadowed by David Bowie), Edward Scissorhands and 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.
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.
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 in New York on film. 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 passed to 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." – Just Me! Yoko Ono 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.
- from SIX FILM SCRIPTS BY YOKO ONO, Tokyo, June 1964
During Stone in (a multimedia collaboration at Judson Church Gallery, New York with John Hendricks and other artists), a catalog included Yoko's "Statement" about 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
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."
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