Yoko Ono: Pieces for Orchestra

Pieces for Orchestra (1962)
by Yoko Ono

Peel, peek, take off, tear, touch, rub

Yoko Ono (b. 1933) grew up in a well-to-do Tokyo banking family and became the first female philosophy student at Gakushuin University (Peers’ School). Disillusioned with her studies she moved to New York and attendedSarah Lawrence College where she fell in with the arts community and went to live in downtown Manhattan. She rented a 5th story loft at 112 Chambers Street where she and composer La Monte Young started a series of performance events that would ultimately feature artists such as Richard Maxfield, John Cage, David Tudor, Ornette Coleman, Jackson MacLow, Henry Flynt, Terry Jennings, Dick Higgins, and Terry Riley, among others. George Maciunas reorganized the series under the name Fluxus. Apart from Fluxus itself, the events also saw the birth of other important art movements such as Minimalism and multi-media
performance art. Distinctions between music, poetry, theater, movement, film, art, and life were downplayed in the name of what one critic has called “Zen Vaudeville.”

Sharing John Cage’s philosophy of art as everydayness (Ono and her then husband, Toshi Ichiyanagi had attended Cage’s classes at the New School in 1958), many Fluxus performances focus attention on mundane activities or koan-like aphorisms; the purpose being not so much to manifest a traditional art object in the usual sense, as to provide an occasion for awareness, meditation, and enlightenment. Many of the pieces (whether intended for actual performance or for exercising the imagination) employed event scores; pithy, poetic, verbal instructions for performers to realize in their own fashion (not to be confused with improvisation). Ono’s instructions are eloquent examples of simple means generatingcomplex results; some of these were collected in
her 1964 book Grapefruit.

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