ARIA Week blog - day three: The real Yoko Ono

By Hayden Donnell

Hayden Donnell is in Sydney for Aria Week, the Australian Recording Industry Association awards being held on Sunday and at which Lorde is performing. He's filing daily updates for nzherald.co.nz.

Yoko Ono stands between two screens showing her performing Cut Piece in 1965 and 2003 at the Museum of Contemporary art in Sydney.
Yoko Ono stands between two screens showing her performing Cut Piece in 1965 and 2003 at the Museum of Contemporary art in Sydney.

Yoko Ono is known mostly for something she didn't do. She's the woman who broke up The Beatles, even though, by Paul McCartney's own admission, she isn't. The shadow of that accusation has hung over, and at times obscured, the work she has been doing for decades as a conceptual artist and activist.

That work is commemorated in a special gallery at Sydney's recently refurbished Museum of Contemporary Art. War Is Over! (if you want it) is a trip through Ono's real career.

It begins with her seminal performance piece Cut Piece. Ono first performed the work in Kyoto, Japan, in 1964. She knelt passively on stage in a beautiful dress. Audience members were invited to cut parts of the dress off until she was naked.

At the time, Cut Piece was financially crippling. Ono had little money and the work called for her to wear her best clothes. The emotional toll was more taxing. She wrote: "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."

Ono performed Cut Piece again in Paris as post-9/11 tensions rose between the US and France, saying 'at times like these, we need to trust each other'.

War Is Over! juxtaposes that performance with another at Carnegie Recital Hall in 1965.

Other highlights include Ono's glass keys to open the sky. They were crafted during the 1960s, when John Lennon was still around and they were filled with "pride and joy at just being alive".

She re-sculpted the keys in bronze in the 1980s to reflect a new age. The activism of the 60s had been usurped by business, the dreams of peace replaced by a quest for material attainment.

Other works call for audience interaction. My Mommy Is Beautiful invites viewers to post messages of thanks to their mothers on a blank wall. Thousands of notes hang side by side. Some are outbursts of love, others expressions of regret.

But mostly Ono's work returns to the same theme: Peace. The futility of violence and the possibility of putting an end to war. By the end, I was won over. If you're ever in Sydney, Ono's exhibition is worth seeing. Give peace a chance.

Three things to do in Sydney:

The ANZAC memorial in Hyde Park: A beautiful tribute to the ANZAC soldiers who gave their lives in service. Rayner Hoff's sculpture Sacrifice lies at its base, showing a fallen soldier with his face up, eyes toward the memorial's star-covered ceiling.

spaQ at the QT Hotel: Come 45 minutes before your treatment and you can get into spaQ's Hammam room, a steam filled sauna meant to detoxify you before you head in for your massage. The spa is at the base of Sydney's newest and mostly beguilingly futuristic hotel, the QT.

Churburger on Albion St: One of the best Kiwi burger joints is in Australia. Churburger's Kiwi founder Warren Turnbull has infiltrated Sydney and shown the locals how to do great takeaways. The burgers (all $10) are amazing, as are the craft beer options. But I loved the subtle reminders of home the most: The 'Sweet As' heading on the dessert menu, the Kaitaia Fire in the sauce bucket.

- nzherald.co.nz

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