Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono, Liverpool Skyladders, 2008. Photograph by Adatabase

A key figure in both the Fluxus and Conceptual Art movements of the 1960’s and 1970's, Yoko Ono (b.1933, Tokyo, Japan) continues to work across a broad range of disciplines and media, including music, performance and installation.

During the 1950s and 1960s she lived and worked in New York, Tokyo and London, settling in New York with her husband John Lennon in 1971. Yoko Ono has been credited with being one of the originators of Conceptual Art, with works created in 1960, 1961 and 1962 which are language-based, and use the idea of instructions and participation as well as licence and performance structures. At the time she called these works Insound and Instructure. These ideas were a strong influence in the formation of Fluxus in 1961.

Her events and sound pieces in the early 1960s laid the groundwork for major developments in music and performance art of the later part of the century. From the 1980s to the present her artwork has been shown internationally in one-woman shows and retrospectives. Yoko received the Skowhegan Award in 2002. Reflecting on her reputation for being outrageous, Yoko smiles and says, ‘I do have to rely on my own judgment, although to some people my judgment seems a little out of sync. I have my own rhythm and my own timing, and that’s simply how it is.’

Liverpool Skyladders revisited an unrealised performance, Sky Event for John Lennon (1968). In her instructions, Ono asked participants to ‘to gather with their Sunday outfit, wearing their best hats’, and to ‘prepare binoculars and telescopes for people to occasionally check the sky. Ladders of great height should also be prepared for people who wish to climb up high to check.’ Later that year, the more conceptual Sky Event II instructed people to ‘do the sky event in your mind. THEN go out into the street and photos to document the event.’

If the original Sky Event was intended to have a celebratory festive quality, Liverpool Skyladders was a quieter more contemplative affair. The Sunday hats, binoculars and telescopes were set aside for a simple installation which transformed a ubiquitous and utilitarian object into a vehicle of wonder. Ladders frequently appear in Ono’s work as a means to reach a higher level, physically and metaphorically. One of her earliest uses of the ladder was the performance Fly (1964), where a stepladder provided the launchpad from which invited guests took flight. In other works, the ladder becomes almost a mechanism of sight, as in Ceiling Piece, where visitors climbed a ladder to discover the word ‘Yes’ on a piece of paper suspended from the ceiling. In Liverpool Skyladders, the ladders are both a means to reach the sky, and a means by which to see the sky.

Slowly growing from a few small saplings into a fully-fledged forest, Liverpool Skyladders shares with Sky Event II the conviction that through collective participation, an act of imagination can become a reality. Through a simple affirmative act of will, a ladder can become a skyladder.

John Lennons memories of Liverpool were in Yoko Ono's thoughts when she decided how to respond to the invitation to participate in International 04. The project My Mummy Was Beautiful (2004) consisted of the widespread distribution in the city of two images:of a woman's breast and vagina.

The project can be linked thematically with many earlier works by the artist that present an objectified and dislocated view of the body. For instance, Cut Piece (1964) was a performance in which member of the audience were invited to cut away the artists clothing. A number of her films focus on bodily details, including Film No 4 Bottoms (1966), showing the naked bottoms of people walking. In Celebration of Being Human, realised in 1994 in Langenhagen, Germany, displaced political campaign posters and saturated every advertising site throughout the small town, as well as being distributed through newspaper advertising, postcard, umbrellas and so on.

A work called Mummy Was Beautiful, created for Yoko Ono's retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, consisted of 21 canvases on metre square, depicting breasts and vaginas arranged on the ceiling of the gallery so that (in the artist's words) 'one has to look up the vagina and the breasts on the ceiling - rather like looking up at your mom's body when you are a baby'. The mothers vagina and breast are the child's introduction to the rest of humanity.

Yoko Ono at Liverpool Biennial 2008

Liverpool Skyladders,
Commissioned by Liverpool Biennial 2008
Exhibited at St. Luke’s Church

Yoko Ono at Liverpool Biennial 2004

My Mummy Was Beautiful, 2004
Multiple posters
Commissioned by Liverpool Biennial 2004
Exhibited in Public realm 

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