ANGELES ó For a small book, Yoko Onoís new
collection of instructions, "Acorn" (O/R
Books: 216 pp., $16 paper), has been in the works for a
long time: almost half a century.
been nearly 50 years since my book of conceptual
instructions, ĎGrapefruit,í was first
published," the 80-year-old avant-garde icon writes
in a brief introduction to the project. "Some years
ago, I picked up from where I left off, and wrote ĎAcorní
for a website event. Now itís being published in book
form. Iím riding a time machine thatís going back to
the old ways!"
remains among the unsung artworks of the 1960s, an
encapsulation of Onoís aesthetic in the form of
aphorisms. Originally released in 1964, it predates her
relationship with John Lennon, suggesting just how much
the former Beatle learned from her: a sense of openness,
of the universe as inherently creative, even positive,
if only we imagine it as such.
itself is very positive," Ono insists on a recent
weekday morning by phone from her New York office.
"When things are not positive, they die."
was the essential intent of "Grapefruit," as
it is of "Acorn," which gathers 100 brief
thought experiments ("Find a spot that is
comfortable for you. / Keep the spot clean. / Think
about the spot when you are away," reads "City
Piece I" in its entirety), each accompanied by
pointillist "dot drawings," that in their own
ways offer a guide to simplifying the challenges of a
realized," Ono says, "that I didnít have to
make a long speech. A message can be sent in one or two
words. That makes ĎAcorní ó like ĎGrapefruití
ó different from a normal book. Itís easy to read
and get the message of the universe. Maybe in the
future, books will be like that: brief messages we send
Ono, the issue of books, and how we interact with them,
is a core concern. "Reading," she explains,
her voice a murmured susurration, "is very
important to me. People are used to computers, but Iím
used to reading books." And yet, she acknowledges,
we live in an age when many people find it difficult to
engage with the printed word.
read one page, one chapter," Ono says, "and
our brains canít go any further. Itís happening to
all of us."
that sense, perhaps, "Acorn" ó which she
developed in 1996 as an early digital experiment and
subsequently reprised as a series of blog posts, one per
day for 100 days, in 2008 ó is meant as an
alternative, "in between reading and the
Internet." The key, she continues, is engagement,
whether through the medium of the page, the screen or,
more important, the world.
"Acorn" has its roots in just such a global
effort, a 1969 conceptual work in which Ono and Lennon
planted two acorns for peace at Englandís Coventry
Cathedral, then mailed additional acorns to a variety of
world leaders with a letter reading, "Enclosed in
this package we are sending you two living sculptures
ó which are acorns ó in the hope that you will plant
them in your garden and grow two oak-trees for world
wrote about the acorns in the Beatles song "The
Ballad of John and Yoko," but in many ways, it was
more her project than his. Its attitude of pointed
whimsy has been a hallmark of Onoís sensibility going
back to the start of her career. In the early 1960s, she
worked with the Fluxus Group in New York; one of her
most notorious performances dates from this period:
"Cut Piece," in which an audience cut away her
clothing piece by piece.
has always balanced playfulness with confrontation, as a
way to provoke us out of our complacency ó an
intention "Cut Piece" embodies at the core.
The same might be said of "Acorn," whose
entries come loaded with the recognition that life,
positive though it may be, canít help but cut two
as far as you can in your dream," she writes in
"Connection Piece VI." "Away from: / your
home / your mate / your children / your pets / your
belongings / your work place / your colleagues // See if
you drown or survive."
hard not to read some of Onoís experience into that
instruction, with its clear-eyed acceptance of isolation
ó not of how, but whether, we survive. At the same
time, she suggests, whatís salient is not the loss so
much as the awareness, the direct interaction with the
moment, with the process of being alive.
not looking for anything," Ono says. "I am
always in a certain kind of place that gives me
inspiration. Or maybe patience is a better way of saying
yes. Or participation, another favorite word.
down a sad memory," she urges in "Cleaning
Piece I." "Put it in a box. / Burn the box and
sprinkle the ashes in the field. / You may give some
ashes / to a friend who shared the sadness."