A Voice of a Woman
International women’s day, 2013. I was on a business trip to Berlin with Emma Zhang. When reading the International Herald Tribune, where the whole second page was dedicated to important women of our time, including Yoko Ono, Emma said to me: “You should do a show with Yoko Ono in Beijing.” I liked that idea and said that it might be easier than you think, because I’m a good friend of Jon Hendricks, Yoko Ono’s manager. We left this conversation and went to Hamburger Bahnhof, so we could have lunch before one of my meetings. On the way to the café, we had time to take a quick look at Max’s collection, and so we made a left turn instead of going straight to the café. After a few steps in that direction, we could not believe who were walking towards us – Yoko Ono and Jon Hendricks! We all went together to have lunch and agreed that the exhibition was meant to be, and so the seed was planted.
In November 2015, Faurschou Foundation opened the first solo exhibition of Yoko Ono in Beijing. Curated by Emma Zhang and Jon Hendricks, this exhibition aimed to expose Yoko Ono’s talents at a far greater span, from her role as a visual artist, to her relentless dedication as an activist for feminism and world peace. The show had a retrospective nature, encompassing early works as well as the ones made specifically for Beijing. The visual impact was overwhelming with its balance between existentiality and death, dream and disaster. Leaving the exhibition through the outdoor Wish Tree garden, the viewer was submerged into a strong emotional state. I am sure there were many thousands of “Peace” and “Love” wishes added to the trees, as I have seen happen all over the world. Yoko Ono’s works truly have no borders, just like the dream of the world without borders she herself shared with John Lennon. At a press conference before the opening, I was among the lucky ones to hear Yoko’s real voice. She picked up a microphone from me and screamed our ears out, making me feel smaller every second of the way. Her voice is a woman’s voice, far more refined and powerful than any man I know. This pioneering voice goes back to the 50’s, and now, sixty years later, stands out as more beautiful and potent. It is a real woman’s voice. No wonder she caught John Lennon’s attention.
I want to thank Emma Zhang, Jon Hendricks, and the entire Faurschou team for realizing the exhibition, as well as Yu Hong for her kind contribution to this catalogue.
My special gratitude extends to Yoko Ono. Not only for this show, but for being among the few in this world who chose the road less travelled.
Yoko Ono: Golden Ladders
“I have come here today so that you can hear the voice of a woman.” With this proclamation, Yoko Ono introduced her work and herself to China – letting loose a magnificent vocal explosion that is still reverberating in peoples’ ears in several continents. What a voice – for 60 years, Yoko Ono has been communicating her philosophical messages in a multitude of forms. Her conceptual based works embrace the mind with love and urgent pleas for caring, for peace, simultaneously speaking with the powerful voice of a woman who has suffered from war, abuse, prejudice, unbelievable loss, and discrimination. Ono has spoken out on countless occasions for peace and for the rights of women. She has also put forward cries for healing, for mending – for participation. She asks us “Have you seen the horizon lately?”; to climb stairs to look at the sky; to see all people as equal. Her art is not of one culture or one direction of thought; rather it has a simple universality to it. Simple instruction pieces, such as BREATHE, transit to all peoples, or WATER – where would we be without it? She doesn’t have to give value to the word – we all understand its vital importance. Sometimes, Ono dances with words: WE ARE ALL WATER. Yes, we are, and transforms this dance into a visible work that conveys its meaning to all.
Ono rejects death – she crosses it out: Ex It and plants the metaphor of life in the coffins of death – letting the flowering of life emerge from the dead. Who are these dead? Victims of war? Victims of hatred? Victims of exploitation? Victims of gender and class abuse? Victims of the powerful over the weak? We must choose our own understanding. It is through these choices that the messages of the work will enter into our consciousness and open our minds to her meanings.
Why must we climb a wobbly spiral staircase to get a glimpse of sky – certainly we can just look up? But do we? Are we always looking down? The simplicity of the work gives it its power and meaning – blue “stairs to see the sky.” Whenever I see stairs, I think of sky, and when I think of sky, I think of the endless possibilities of life, of creation, of the human capacity of love. Ono seems to be saying “embrace the sky, embrace the future, embrace humanity, embrace nature, embrace each other.” But first, we must look up. First, we must take those initial steps. IMAGINE lifting ourselves above all that holds us down, that weighs us down: FLY, and with flight we can transcend the burden of the mundane – breaking free of the chains that hold us back from fulfilling our dreams. DREAM, OPEN the windows and doors that close us off from ideas and possibilities that must be available to all of us. REMEMBER our childhoods, remember our mothers’ love and care for us. REMEMBER, too, that there is an amazing future that we can all achieve. There is a JOY OF LIFE to everything that we do, even in our everyday routines – eating a piece of fruit, receiving a smile from a stranger or someone close to us. Finding a pretty stone, or seeing a drop of dew on a blade of grass. The JOY OF LIFE comes to us all in so many, many ways, each and every day – we just must be receptive to them. We must TOUCH life – touch each other, both with our fingertips and with our minds. TOUCH gives feeling to both whom we touch and to ourselves – TOUCH is also a form of communication with ourselves and the world around us. Touch water, touch the earth, touch a stone, touch a piece of paper, and feel its texture. Ono has made “Touch Poems” with paper or hair on many pages, reading the poems with our fingers, we suddenly encounter a new understanding of a world around us, no longer just an audio or visual world, but suddenly a tactile world. Ono also asks us to LISTEN – “listen to the snow falling,” “listen to the sound of a stone aging” or “of the earth turning,” “listen to the sound of the underground water” – LISTEN, REMEMBER, WE ARE ALL WATER. Ono offers us capsules of air from an AIR DISPENSER, but we must pay for it. Yes, air is not free – it is something we must cherish, must protect.
A WISH TREE is an everyday something, transformed. It is an opportunity for us all to share thoughts and wishes with each other on welcoming branches of living trees, and to share them with the artist – these wishes blow in the wind, and are metaphorically sent in many directions. Most importantly, the work allows us, encourages us to write down thoughts and hopes – even fears – onto pieces of paper in an open, public location, empowering us to continue to do so. Much of Ono’s work is unfinished – the writing and tying of a wish is just the beginning, the reading of the word YES is only the start – once a word, or an idea, or a concept, or an experience is in our minds, it can travel in unknown directions, and be the spark of unbelievable beginnings. YES is such a positive thought – it is an opening up – an affirmation of the possible.
PARTS OF A LIGHTHOUSE implies both a beacon and a structure, but constructed of a different kind of matter – eternal yet seemingly ephemeral. The lighthouse becomes a beacon for peace, and warning to ships of shoals. An inverse structure for the mind.
GOLDEN LADDERS are the possible passageways from this world to another world – precious beyond belief – riverbeds for the sun to glisten – strong to grip onto, and climb unhindered into a future ready to uncover.
Yes, Yoko Ono’s strong VOICE OF A WOMAN is her own clear voice of the artist.
Yoko Ono: Golden Ladders
Faurschou Foundation was very pleased to present the first solo exhibition with the world-renowned artist, Yoko Ono, in Beijing in November 2015. The exhibition offered the public an opportunity to participate in Yoko Ono’s interactive art and take part in her both honest and utopian, yet forceful universe and life-philosophy. 83-year-old Yoko’s presence in Beijing had made her voice heard as a woman’s natural primal howl full of phenomenal power, deep suffering, ardent yearning and sheer rapture. The voice filled the space with the vibration of spirit and emotion, echoing with many subtle souls. With the exhibition facing elusive stresses from the authority, a seed for peace and communication between borders and cultures was also sowed with her smile.
A result of serendipity, and something that was perhaps meant to be, the idea of the exhibition was dated back to Women’s Day, March 8th 2011, when a piece of news on a performance by a Chinese female artist reminded me of the Cut Piece by Yoko Ono and the revolutionary time. It led to an on-going discussion with Jens on the topic of “who are the great female artists of our time?” We soon decided that it would be a wonderful idea to do an exhibition, dedicated to Yoko Ono in Beijing in the future. Just within a few hours after we had made the wish, we surprisingly bumped into Yoko Ono, Jon Hendricks and Connor Monahan at the corner of Hamburger Bahnhof Museum. 4 years later, the exhibition was opened in Beijing’s winter smog following the European tour of the retrospective Yoko Ono: Half-A-Wind Show and MOMA’s Yoko Ono: One Woman Show.
Titled as Yoko Ono: Golden Ladders, the exhibition showed a variety of works from Yoko’s extensive artistic career, included important pieces from the last 10-15 years, and pieces from her early Fluxus and Conceptual work, as well as the new works specially made for Beijing’s show. Ideas, rather than materials, make up the core of Yoko Ono’s art. Based on verbal or written instructions for actions that are utopian, ephemeral and performable, Yoko Ono presents viewers with art which becomes a shared mental or physical experience.
The exhibition began outdoors with a Wish Tree for Beijing garden, planted with “Three Friends of Winter” – pine, bamboo and plum trees, symbolizing steadfastness, perseverance and resilience – the scholar-gentleman’s ideal. Viewers were invited to write a wish and hang it on a branch of a tree. At the end of the exhibition, all of the wishes were sent to Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower in Reykjavik, Iceland to join wishes from millions of people from around the world who have participated in the Wish Tree project, dating back to 1996.
With a special dedication to the show in Beijing, Golden Ladders was another participatory concept, where viewers were invited to bring their own goldcoloured ladders of any size, shape and material to join the installation, in which 7 ladders gilded with pure gold leaf had already been made, using both traditional ready-made Chinese ladders, and newly made ones. By offering a rare generosity to the participants who help to implement and materialize the instructions, the artist lost control of the evolution of the work, which acquired new life in versions made with varying degrees of creativity, and invited “a wider and more tolerant esthetic experience.” The action of contributing a golden ladder had participants reflect upon their ladder of existence towards the sky, which is the epitome of infinity, encompassing all – the origin of creation and regeneration.
To See The Sky, a new work, first exhibited earlier in 2015, at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, sent out a message that the journey towards the light is accompanied by danger. Visitors who were attracted to climb up to the top of the spiral staircase would soon realize that the staircase started to get shaky, which made it difficult to focus on gazing up at the sky. When the moment of emancipation and freedom comes, it is an enlightening experience.
This is a challenging action, but subsequently emphasizes the idea of hope, a notion that appears in many of Yoko Ono’s artworks, especially after the 1980s. In the work, Ex It, the confrontation with horrifying events is clear, but it also contains an opening in which to escape the fear. The installation strongly worked on the awareness of the viewers when they walked through approximately 70 coffins, hastily built for victims from natural or human catastrophes. With the same types of trees found at the Wish Tree for Beijing garden, growing out from each coffin where the head is usually placed, the symbolic meaning of resurrection and eternity of life served as a moral reminder that creates a consciousness about one’s own existence and our relationship with the others and the world, calling for responsible and critical vision.
With the pop-up concept work, Word Pieces, Yoko Ono’s art was spread over the city of Beijing. A new word, mostly a verb to motivate thoughts and actions, such as “DREAM” and ”IMAGINE”, appeared on billboards, banners and posters at different locations every 20 days while the exhibition was running, leading to totally unexpected encounters with the people living in the city. The conceptual strategy of employing conventional advertising media as formats for artistic and publicity purposes had been seen in the famous peace-campaign, War is Over! If You Want It . It was widely echoed in works by Barbara Kruger, Félix González-Torres and others.
Yoko Ono is a present-day living icon. She manages to constantly develop and renew an outstanding artistic oeuvre, making her a pioneer – one of very few women – in the field of avant-garde art practice, as well as in the field of music, film, and the peace movements. She is also a feminist pioneer. Her art is participatory, engaging, and carries a subtle sense of humor. It is also lifeaffirming with a strong social and political reference, motivated by profoundly human concerns. With a starting point in the desire to make a difference, her art has been called ground-breaking and controversial, influencing that of Fluxus, whose manifesto includes the call to “promote a revolutionary flood and tide in art, promote living art, anti-art by removing the art from the sublime and sacred object towards the fundamental idea. This notion also links to her cultural background of Zen Buddhism, of which the essence is selfreflection and meditation, with the aim to free the soul from earthly fetters.
Idiosyncrasy and vicissitude had been combined to stamp Yoko Ono as an exceptional being. She fights for her ideal without a trace of cynicism and creates lasting symbols. In recent years, Yoko Ono’s work, and Yoko Ono herself as an artist, are starting to get the recognition deserved. During her life with John Lennon, she and Lennon were particularly involved in peace activities, and together they spread her philosophy of charity and tolerance. By the 1970s, they had become a symbol of the International Peace Movement. A message that Yoko Ono still continues to spread to this day.
I would like to express my tremendous thankfulness to Yoko for her great spirit and support of the exhibition. I give my visceral gratitude to Jon who had been the major support throughout the whole process – the exhibition would not be realized without him. I want to acknowledge my gratitude to Lena Liu, Xiaoxia Pan and Di Pan from the Faurschou Beijing team, Kristian Eley, Katrine Winther and Michelle Dalum from the Faurschou Copenhagen team, along with the facilitators who worked together to make the show accomplished. I am very grateful to Chen Lingyun, Zhouyun from Imaginist and Liang Xingyi, Zhang Yuling, within a very short time, for the publication of the Chinese edition of Grapefruit , a geminal artwork by Yoko Ono in 1964. My special thanks to Japan Foundation for the exhibition sponsorship; to Taikoo Li Sanlitun and CAFA Art Museum, Peking University for the venue sponsorship for the Word Pieces installations, and to photographer Jonathan Leijonhufvud for the great recording. I also warmly acknowledge Mr. Wang Huangsheng, Mr. Wang Chunchen and artist Mr. Xu Bing for co-organising the lecture at CAFA. In the end, I express my profound gratitude to Jens Faurschou for making the dreamers’ show and many other shows come true, and especially for his love and all the beautiful moments shared together in our past relationship and marriage.
“Art is a force against authoritarian modes of thinking.” There is much to be learned from Yoko Ono – especially today, with increasing urgent social and political issues and public appeal for social justice all over the world. She cultivates a mindset, which embraces, rather than brings fear and indifference; with an open heart to experience, to witness and participate with an uncorrupted eye. Much courage will be needed.
Yoko Ono – A Complex Energy Field
[In physical book only]
I Saw My Soul Smiling From Many, Many faces In Beijing
[In physical book only]
Published on the occasion of the exhibition:
Yoko Ono: Golden Ladders
Curated by: Jens Faurschou, Jon Hendricks, Emma Zhang
Organised by: Faurschou Foundation and Studio One.
Presented at Faurschou Foundation Beijing 15.11.15 – 03.07.16
Faurschou Foundation Beijing, 798 Art District,
NO.2 Jiuxianqiao Road P.O.Box 8502, Chaoyang District Beijing, China 100015
Faurschou Foundation Copenhagen
Klubiensvej 11 2150 Nordhavn, Denmark
With special thanks to:
Central Academy of Fine Arts
Taikoo Li Sanlitun
Katrine Winther Korsgaard
Ironflag / Marco Pedrollo
With assistance from:
The team at Faurschou Foundation Beijing
The team at Faurschou Foundation Copenhagen
Studio One, New York
Beijing Wood Garden Landscape Design Co.,Ltd
MUNKEN KRISTALL 150 g.
COLORPLAN BRIGHT WHITE 170 G.
Printed & book bound:
Narayana Press, Denmark
All artworks, texts, and audio recordings by Yoko Ono are © 2017 Yoko Ono.
All rights reserved.
Every effort has been made to clear the proper copyright for the material produced in this book