Yoko Ono takes us To The Light

Yoko Ono Installation view, Yoko Ono: TO THE LIGHT Serpentine Gallery, London (19 June - 9 September 2012) © 2012 Jerry Hardman-Jones

Whatever your opinion of Yoko Ono, I urge you to go and see her latest exhibition ‘To The Light’ at London’s Serpentine gallery whilst you still can. Just don’t go to see it with a stinking hangover (I’ll explain more later!).

Described by John Lennon as the world’s most famous unknown artist, this collection brings together works from the illustrious Japanese writer, musician and peace activist’s long career – spanning back to well before she was labeled a witch by mewling Lennon lovers.

Personally, I couldn’t give two hoots about Ono’s Beatles connection. I just think she’s a great artist. Take her instruction paintings, for example. The purest form of conceptual art, these typed up words ask the viewer to essentially create the piece within their heads. First published in 1964 in a book entitled Grapefruit, I am happy to note that there are a bunch of Instruction Paintings here.

Of course Lennon is always going to have a presence in her work, and he’s here at the Serpentine too – from the video of him smiling (film number 5 smile 1968) to the infamous stepladder leading up to the ‘Yes’ Ceiling Painting (1966) that was apparently central to their first meeting.

One particularly moving piece was a piece of paper smudged with the combined footsteps of Yoko and John (Footsteps we made) which they had, apparently, ‘got into doing’. ‘Now, 40 years later, ’ Yoko writes, ‘I held the paper and made the footsteps go from the floor towards the ceiling. I saw something I didn’t see then. We were walking to the sky.’ Call me a bit of a soppy Sally (or you can blame my Sunday-morning hangover for kicking in at this point), but this piece especially was testament to WHY it makes sense that Lennon is always in the background. There’s no doubt that these two creatives shared a massive and consuming love that still lingers, somehow, today.

Yoko Ono Installation view, Yoko Ono: TO THE LIGHT Serpentine Gallery, London (19 June - 9 September 2012) © 2012 Jerry Hardman-Jones

Quite removed from romance, it’s Ono’s ‘Cut Piece’ films that are undoubtedly the emotional highpoint of this show. Interpreted as one of her most feminist works, the Cut Piece is also one of the most well-known examples of performance art, and one that Ono carried out and filmed in both 1964 and 2003. In this exhibition, the two films sit across from one another, creating a quiet dialogue of their own.

Essentially the performance involves the artist sitting before an audience and inviting people to come up and cut a piece of her clothing away, one after the other. It’s an experiment in participation, trust, bravery and power… and the difference between the two films is remarkable.

In the ‘60s version, we are witness to a dignified yet slightly scared young girl sitting on the floor, wearing a calm expression like that of someone waiting for an injection to be administered. Slowly, people snip away pieces of cloth, until participators become bolder in their interactions. One man circles Onomenacingly, to laughs from the audience, before making his first incision. The piece comes to an abrupt halt soon after the one audience member addresses the audience with a smirk that he will ‘take his time’ and be ‘gentle’, before gleefully removing her entire camisole and slitting through both her bra straps. It’s a shocking and unsettling watch.

Feeling shaken from the first film, the second later version is somewhat of an antidote. This colour film from almost 40 years later shows the Yoko Ono we all know and…well, maybe not love, but…you know. She looks strong, experienced, tired.  ‘It looks like someone who went through a shocking life,’ Yokohas said of it, ‘which is true.’ She seems open and accepting of her visitors and they, in turn, are compassionate and towards her. Often they talk to her before making their contribution, one participant pins a medal on her and kisses her on the cheek, another cuts off a piece of her own clothing and places it on Ono’s exposed leg.

As a piece of performance art, Cut Piece is important and thought-provoking , but as an  exploratory piece challenging social norms, it’s an absolutely fascinating and very emotional experience… And absolutely too much to cope with on a hangover.

So, please PLEASE do go and see To The Light whilst it’s still on (it’s free!), just don’t do it the morning after the night before.

To The Light runs until the 9th of September 2012

More info here> http://www.serpentinegallery.org

By: Sarah Barnes, 03.09.2012 | Comments (0)
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Should We Care What Women Wear?

One thing I love about Feminism today is that it feels so inclusive; The modern feminism umbrella is so wide that all kinds of feminists are provided shelter. The problem for me, however, comes when I realise that I foster several little feminists within my own brain – all huddling out of the downpour – and I wonder how I can justify harbouring such seemingly conflicting interests. Most of the time I am happy to have the advantage of accessing various viewpoints… but sometimes, sitting on the fence can be a mighty pain in the ass.

So here I am, listening to Beyonce’s Freakum Dress and feeling appalled as I read Grazia’s latest online report on which trends men equate with promiscuity. Who are these men to pass judgement? And, I wonder, is this really required reading for the modern fashionista? Should women care whether 57% of men think that those who sport body-con might *gasp* be a little on the loose side?

Apparently so, because Grazia advise their readers to ‘Just be careful your dress sense doesn’t give out false messages.  We don’t mind men thinking we’re unfashionable (what do they know) but ‘easy’? That’s another matter.’

Thankfully, the writer of this piece, Amy Molloy, pointed out that the poll (conducted by Mycelebrityfashion.co.uk) can be taken with a huuuge pinch of salt since these men clearly had no clue about AW10’s big trends (I’m being serious here! If a man thinks I’m wearing a pencil skirt for his benefit, rather than for the fact I am channelling this season’s Mad Men vibe, then he really should brush up on his pop-culture homework) and, worst of all, almost a quarter of the males questioned said they ‘wouldn’t allow’ their partner to go out in an outfit that didn’t meet their approval. Epic. Fail.

Still, the fact that this poll was deemed of importance for Grazia’s savvy, fashionable and independently minded audience (and I should know, because I count myself as one of them!) is kind of distressing. I’m reminded of a very similar poll flagged up on Sociological Images; Young Christian men were surveyed on what items of clothing/ways of dressing/behaviour (intentional or not) they deemed ‘immodest’. It made for distressing reading, as the results began to weave a tangled web of impossible expectations from women – boiling down to the infuriating notion that women are expected to be the guardians of straight male sexuality. As Lisa Wade wrote of the results;

The lust is men’s; the bodies are women’s.  It’s an asymmetry built right into the survey design. Modesty is something pertains to only girls and immodesty is something that guys get to define.  This may be even more pernicious than women’s constant self-monitoring.  It erases women’s own desires and the sex appeal of men’s bodies, leading women to spend all of their time thinking about what men want.

So what to do? Don one of those ‘promiscuous’ trends, regardless of the male gaze, and team it with an empowered attitude? That’s certainly my first reaction. But perhaps not the best course of action – since, as one Grazia commenter points out; ‘I find it decidedly ironic, yet perfectly 21st century that women would go on a feminist march in bodycon and fishnets. Germaine Greer must be weeping.’

Yikes. Have I strayed severely off the feminist path here? I mean, I’ve read Female Chauvinist Pigs and (although I found it a bit reactionary) I agreed with pretty much every word. I was pleased when style maven Paula Reed spoke of how fashion editors had come under fire for certain ‘pornified’ trends. Hell, I laughed my ass off at The Onion’s brilliant Women Now Empowered By Everything A Woman Does article. So, what am I? A feminist… or a hypocrite?

For now all I know is that, on a personal level, I make a conscious effort not to judge women on what they wear. My umbrella is open to all; stilletto heeled or sturdilly booted, seamed stockinged or hairy legged, bare faced or fully made-up, body-conned or baggy. I’ve sported all these looks and will most likely continue to flit between them whenever it takes my fancy… and I know that, whatever I’m wearing, I’m still the same person with the same (admittedly *ahem* diverse) belief system. Whilst I delight in fashion, what I wear has little bearing on my persona, and so I am content in the knowledge that what other women wear tells me little about their personalities and values.

The fact that this question still niggles, though, is testament to my personal fear that, one day soon, the goddesses of feminism will strike me down for wearing heels. Or lipstick. Or stockings and suspenders. But I’m aware that the guilt of hypocrisy is tiring and sometimes living is hard enough. There are other important things that require attention, so I will just put this blog out there, hope it lets other flip-flopping feminists see that they’re not alone, and perhaps we can move on for a bit… until the guilt niggles again.

By: Sarah Barnes, 01.09.2010 | Comments (4)
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I. Am. Terrified!

“My eyes! It buuuuurns!”

Such were the screams that could be heard ringing around the staff room as I idly flipped through Grazia magazine on my lunch hour and chanced upon this advert. With this double page spread of grinning Barbies, all dead behind the eyes, I had been plunged unwittingly into the valley of the dolls. But why did it freak me out so much? (more…)

By: Sarah Barnes, 03.03.2010 | Comments (3)
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Fashion and The Female Personality

I read with interest (and not just because she’s a friend, honest!) Esme Benjamin’s take on the new French Connection adverts. Writing over at the Fashion Editor At Large blog, where she and Grazia’s Melanie Rickey pour out their fashionable thoughts, Esme loved the brand’s post modern approach to winning over the public.

What I love about this ad campaign is that it cheekily mocks (and yet, still obviously loves) the pretension of editorials and the fashion image whilst simultaneously making us as viewers aware of the way the fashion ‘dream’ is delivered to us. And the most interesting thing, I think, is how that ‘dream’ is all tied up in defining a particular gender in a romanticised and precise manner. So, from the video campaign (that deliciously sends up French art-house cinema), we understand the Man is ’strong, virile, a brute’ and the Woman is highly desirable, yet independent.

What I find especially exciting about this campaign is that it gives a personality to the ‘dream’ woman in the campaign, and acknowledges that French Connection customers also possess personality… and a sense of humour! With this in mind, I was interested to read BitchBuzz’s latest fashion report that, when presenting their AW10 collection this London Fashion Week, Antoni & Alison chose to go over-the-top in their openness about the kind of woman they designed the pieces for.

As the lovely editor of BitchBuzz Cate Sevilla writes, the presentation (which had clothes for the writer, the country girl, and those ‘very good at maths’)was essentially about how Antoni & Alison have created a collection that tells women that they can do anything that they might deign to turn their hand to… or dress appropriately for. It’s an interesting idea. Is this fashion coming round to the idea that women actually have lives and do stuff when they are wearing clothes, rather than being passive clothes horses? Or is this yet more pressure for women to ‘look the part’ and play at dress-up (if she dresses like a martial artist, does it follow that she can perform the perfect judo-chop? Did she earn her black belt, or simply buy it?) I think the aim was for the former, and it was great to see Antoni & Alison picking up on the interests of women, and not simply labelling them ‘the sex-kitten’ or some other tired cliche.

Whilst the marketing idea of having a ‘Woman’ that a brand designs for has been around for donkey’s years, I think this new mini-trend for turning the notion on its head is a rather fascinating one… and I wonder whether we’ll be seeing more examples of it in the future.

By: Sarah Barnes, 24.02.2010 | Comments (0)
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High Tide Heels

High Tide Heels

These high heeled flippers caught my eye whilst in Bruges this weekend. These absurd oddities were not for sale in a shop, however (thank goodness!)… they are in fact a creation of Belgian artist Paul Schietekat. For me, they are a lighthearted starter point to discuss idealised ‘femininity’ versus functionality…

The ‘High Tide Heels’ are currently on display at the Pinsart gallery, but have actually been around since 2006. They have appeared in an advert for Canal plus (if I understand correctly the ad says that, even though it’s the summer season, there’s no rest for bitches!)  and they also seem to have inspired similar designs that have made it onto the catwalk and adverts raising awareness about global warming!

(Photograph by Sarah Barnes)

By: Sarah Barnes, 08.12.2009 | Comments (1)
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Misfits – Super Powers are a Turn On

Last night I watched E4’s new teen drama Misfits (I have no idea why… I guess I thought the idea of Skins with super-powers might be good. Trust me, it’s not)

Misfits E4

There is often critique about the way fantasy writers treat their female characters, much of it regarding the way the super-powers given to them fit their stereotypical role as a woman. Whilst male superheroes are going around smashing and killing and KAPOWing, female superheroes are more likely to be deflecting bullets, reading minds and becoming invisible. All whilst looking damn hawt.

So last night, 4 of the 5 Misfits got their super-powers… and they were all pretty lame, to be honest; invisibility, mind reading, turning back time. What, no setting-things-on-fire-just-by-looking-at-them power? Oh well, that’s an E4 style budget for you…

The power attributed to the character of Alisha really took the biscuit though. Her power was… wait for it… (more…)

By: Sarah Barnes, 13.11.2009 | Comments (20)
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Miss Van shows us her ‘Lovestain’

Miss Van Love Stain

The work of Vanessa Alice Bensimon, better known as Miss Van, has always been a conundrum for feminists. On the one hand, when Miss Van (a native of Toulouse, France) began painting her buxom and rather arrogant looking ‘poupees’ in the mid 1990’s she was doing something really fresh and new. Along with fellow graffiti artist  Mademoiselle Kat, Miss Van created a vibrant feminine scene within the normally male dominated graffiti world. Her work, and relatively unusual artistic practice (Miss Van favours latex paint and brushes to spray cans), has since inspired many female graffers to pick up their paintbrushes and put their creativity out there.

All good stuff, of course! However, there’s that other hand to think about…


By: Sarah Barnes, 06.11.2009 | Comments (1)
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