« Yoko Ono : Lumière »
In advance of the first retrospective exhibition in Europe of Yoko Ono's work — organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Lyon —, Jean-Jacques Lebel, a dear friend of hers, has written the following tribute :
Connecting with Yoko
Of all the supremely gifted human beings I was privileged to encounter, work, live and be associated with in the early and mid sixties — visionnary thinkers, art-activists, radical utopians, inventors of languages and brave new worlds — one of the most delightfully open-minded individuals was Yoko Ono. We first met in London at her 1966 Indica Gallery show and at DIAS. Deleuze and Guattari had not yet sculpted their rhizom concept but, without knowing it, that is exactly what we were experiencing. Metzger and Latham briefly assembled a diversified strong transnational countercultural force. DIAS was a turning point for many of us.
Yoko and I became instant friends and half a century later have remained so. The public at large sees Yoko only thru the lens of paparazzi storm troops or indiscrete Instagram tidbits but those of us who were close to her before she adopted her celebrity persona and doned her universally recognizable protection mask, those who worked with her back then, know that beneath all the jive vibrates a live major artist.
Take her Black Bag piece, for instance. It evolves around a closed reichian orgone-box-like cloth sack big enough for two people to crawl into. I first saw her perform it in 1967 surrounded by hundreds of unsuspecting bystanders in the main hall of the Knokke-le-Zoute casino in Belgium, where the so-called « experimental » film festival was taking place. Both our films had been rejected as «too extreme » (sic), i.e not mainstream and arty. Hers was
«Film # Four » which featured a series of bare female and male buttocks climbing up a few steps. Mine was « L’état normal ». Having been excluded, we decided to transform the entire machinery thru actions such as our (now famous, then infamous) Miss Festival Election happening in which Yoko and eight others performed in the nude, as in a Miss Universe pageant staged in a nudest colony, in front of a Belgian government minister and official judges, reworked in a Dada mode. When a naked boy was « elected » Miss Festival, all hell broke loose. A wild bunch of anarchists who had travelled from all over Europe and America to protest the main NATO base stationned nearby (de Gaulle having expelled it from France) took the stage at a signal and turned the mock pageant into an anti-imperialist demonstration with banners and chants. By the way, Yoko had volunteered to be part of this happening of mine in which the explosive mix of then far-out art-forms, collective improvisation, uncompromising political dissent and up-front unorthodox sexuality has been described by cultural historians as a precocious pre-enactment, on a small scale, of what was soon to develop into the world-wide May 68 upheaval. We had no precise idea of what was to come but we certainly knew something important was cooking and that we were definitely part of it.
Right after Knokke, Yoko again performed her Black Bag piece in Paris when she staid in my studio for a few weeks. First in a cabaret on Place de la Contrescarpe where Ornette Coleman and I took turns inside the sack with Yoko. Second in Victor Herbert’s house where André S. Labarthe and Noël Burch where shooting their outstanding documentary film « Portrait de Shirley Clarke ». In one sequence, Nouvelle Vague filmmaker Jacques Rivette, Danièle Hibon, underground cinematographer Michel Auder, Yoko and I — all admirers of Shirley’s movies — are sitting on the floor around Shirley, discusing « The Cool World », « The Connection », or
« Portrait of Jason » (her recent films). Yoko sit and listened but did not partake in the conversation. The camera rolled. At one point Yoko disappeared into her Black Bag and, for the entire duration of that segment, remained unseen, unheard yet intensily present. A remakable philosophical statement akin to John Cage’s « New Music = New Listening ». And, in my eyes, a precise metaphor of the true artist’s modus operandi, hidden away, pratically unseen and therefore incomprehensible to most, yet extremely present at the very heart of the general scheme of things.