(The first thing that you need to know is that performance art is a social event. The success of the experience depends not only on the strength of the piece and of the artist, but of the willingness of the audience – the experiencers – to commit…)
“IMAGINE PEACE” Yoko Ono’s voice rings out over the crowd, recorded but potent. “Imagine peace. Imagine peace…” A command. Are you ready to commit?
Imagine Peace (or perhaps: Imagine Piece) is an invitation to collaborate. Imagine, listen, feel. Cast yourself out into this audience and to the stage and to the space. Go.
Arising sets the stage with a haunting. Carnal and guttural and rhythmic, Ono’s voice screeches; viewers are uncomfortable with the contract they have signed by staying put. Now you are a bystander – no longer imagining, but witnessing.
Behind the screen you see one bright red dot (an orphan of the flames on the screen) pulsing as an inhale-exhale teases the cigarette in the dark.
This ember turns into a heartbeat. Next to you in the crowd near the stage someone puts two fingers to their wrist, searching for a pulse as their ears ring with one. Or: people hold their hands against their ears – against the sound of the too-loud life forcing itself through their chests. People hold each other in the dark. It is synthy and vibey and it passes over you like the sound of waves coming out of the speakers. Sound-gulls swoop in, coming to pluck the relaxed yawn from your mouth. Poetry echoes into a time machine – back to 1866 or 1953 or now elsewhere. Words fade, pause. Feedback turns musical.
Are you still there? Still committed to this art?
Break – a silent film plays. A match slowly burns itself out of existence. Who knew that your ears breathe when they aren’t clogged up with sound? Slowly the noise and the fire and the video burn out among the other silver screen stars.
Then frantic, uncontrolled, hair-whipping energy. “Why?!” over and over – whywhywhywhywhywhywhywhy – until it not a word but a noise. Her voice on stage oscillates between orgasmic and painful. Behind walls of cymbal-symbols and a cart of incantations she is possessed with the spirit of the music noise light atmosphere of here and now and the crowd watches and nods – signs the dotted line.
Pause. Blink the confusion out of your eyes. No, slowly. Let your eye-lid-windshield-wipers restore the glimmer of eager amazement you have at experiencing this Happening. Do it even more slowly. This blink will take you five minutes to complete – think of it as a staring contest.
Now your nose fills with the smell of cigarette smoke as words swirl in your ears, over and over – “What about the dreamers?/ I got dropped off at the wrong fashion show./ What’s he gonna do next?/ The world’s turning, I hope I don’t turn away./ I got dropped off at the wrong fashion show./ What’s he gonna do next?/ What about the dreamers?…” It is a dropped and cracked music box, though it retains it’s hypnotic powers: watch the dancer spin, listen to the words chase each other in the microphone…
Then scream against the sky! PROJECT without thought. Ears open, eyes open, hearts open, minds open, ears blown, minds blown. Again and once more – break this atmosphere with the force of your human lungs.
Lean in to this. Further and further until you are on the edge – about to fall into the guitar noise and be cradled in the bend of her knee supporting the sound waves. You have entered a rippling, breathy, dissonant Nirvana – marked by the circles her finger makes in the air between strums on the always vibrating strings.
In the middle of this circle you will find the concept of gravity. Excitement draws everyone tighter – still stitched together by the commitment to this night. This text-turned-voice is a promise of what comes next, a promise of a man and a guitar and a blanket carrying shards of glass or memory or future or everything at once.
Pressing bodies are fast and harsh and unwavering. Imagine Peace! Bend into the crowd, hold your place but be flexible. Reach and touch and feel the cool vase that has become hundreds of little promises. Feel its rough edges and how small it is. One in hundreds but each totally unique. Imagine peace. This crowd is a jigsaw puzzle marked by shards of glass in pockets.
Commit to returning. This is a social event, after all, and now it is shattered and will be spread. Commit to returning ten years from now with your peace/ piece and rebuild and build better because now this piece of glass is not just white and blue and ceramic and broken: it is a story.
This is exactly what you signed up for.
Concert for Yoko Ono, Washington, and The World took place on Sunday September 17, 2017 from 7 to 10 pm at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C. It featured some of Ono’s video art, as well as performers Camae Ayewa (Moor Mother), Lizzi Bougatsos, and Kim Gordon, who performed selected Yoko Ono works from Grapefruit (including Collecting Piece and Overtones), as well as their own work inspired by Yoko Ono.