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FLY/FLY: YOKO ONO’S SKY CINEMA and PROPOSITIONS FOR A SCORE BASED ART PRACTICE

In Uncategorized on June 14, 2012 at 11:57 am

Yoko Ono, film still from Fly (1970)

 

 

VerySmallKitchen writes: Reading through publications at X Marks the Bökship I noted the prevalence of script/ score/ play forms in current practice, including work by Alison Ballance, Ruth Beale, Ella Finer, Holly Pester, seekers of lice, Cally Spooner and Gerry Smith, amongst others.

This led VerySmallKitchen to consider a score-based art practice as both actuality and proposition, finding a ground in the written text that instigates an ongoing flux of object, performance and publication that returns, moves away, between, transforms, forgets, re-writes, repeats and more that score from which it begins…

 

 

It was wanting to clarify this working- movement and momentum of the score as/for art practice over time that returned me to the work of Yoko Ono. As, also, a prelude to her forthcoming show at London’s Serpentine Gallery. A practice which, in varying degrees of proximity, often returns to the forms and specifics of Grapefruit, Ono’s collection of scores first published in 1964.

I focus here on Ono’s film scripts as – in relation to the contemporary work at the Bökship – an area that distills most clearly the tensions involved in the score form: an instruction that is also a self-contained gesture in itself; a public invitation that is also a form of private, solitary note taking and discipline; to Fly/ Fly as figure for thinking through score-based practice…

 

 

A proposition:

 

A. Score-practice as a restless, dissatisfied form, incomplete in itself, creating disjunctions of meaning and experience within and between different participants and times in which the score/ work exists.

B. Score-based practice demonstrates a simplicity of instruction and communication to proliferate problematics concerning both its own invitation and any response.

 

 

FLY/ FLY: YOKO ONO’S SKY CINEMA

 

 

 

 

Perhaps this essay could be a score for reading the many script/ score based works in X Marks the Bökship: sentences and ideas applied to other projects and essays as instructional scores, initiating ways of reading other words and images. Such an approach – both as success and failure, concise instruction and incomprehensible request – is one way to consider what is at stake in Yoko Ono’s cinema.

In 1964 Ono introduced a sequence of her “film scripts” as follows:

 

These scores were printed and made available to whoever was interested at the time or thereafter in making their own version of the films, since these films, by their nature, became a reality only when they were repeated and realized by other filmmakers.

A dream you dream alone may be a dream, but a dream two people dream together is a reality.[1]

 
And to Scott MacDonald twenty five years later:

 

I think one of the reasons I’m not making more films is that I’ve done so many film scripts. I’d like to see one of them made by somebody else. Maybe one day out of the blue I’ll feel it so strongly that I’ll make a film myself again.[2]

 
*

 

Yoko Ono’s 25-minute film Fly (1970) begins from a score written in 1968:

 

 

Film No.13 FLY

Let a fly walk on a woman’s body from toe to head and fly out of the window.

 
 

It’s a sentence that says everything about the film, and also nothing. So an essay like this becomes an attempt to delineate those differences: the film as an idea; idea as instruction and invitation; the film as executed by John Lennon and Yoko in 1982, in a New York apartment, with 200 sugar-solution stunned ants and the (also stunned) actress Virginia Lust; the film as historical lens and, via Youtube, contemporary manifestation (that’s Ono herself as contemporary, and our own work as we retrospectively engage with the nexus of issues Fly raises).

Another beginning for Fly features a cartoon in a newspaper. As Yoko tells Scott MacDonald:

 

 

A cartoon in a newspaper gave me the idea. There’s this woman with a low-cut dress, and a guy is looking at her, and the guy’s wife says, “What are you looking at!” and the guy says, “Oh, I’m looking at a fly on her.” I wanted the film to be an experience where you’re always wondering, am I following the movement of the fly or am I looking at the body? I think that life is full of that kind of thing. We’re always sort of deceiving ourselves about what we’re really seeing.

 

*

 

 

A set of SIX FILM SCRIPTS BY YOKO ONO are dated Tokyo, June, 1964. A later set of THIRTEEN FILM SCORES are attributed to London, 1968. Both were part of a broader practice of scores Ono used as the basis for musical compositions, performances, and paintings, first collected together in her 1964 publication Grapefruit. Many scores continue to be interpreted and installed up to the present.

 

 

Yoko Ono, Six Film Scripts, page from Grapefruit (1964)

 

 

All the scores invite responses of various kinds, and thinking about the specific nature of such invitations begins with the materiality of the scores themselves. So in Grapefruit the placing of a single score on a white page foregrounds a distinct, almost sculptural identity, whilst scores are also grouped into chapters, including MUSIC, PAINTING, EVENT, POETRY and OBJECT. When Scott MacDonald re-printed the film scripts in Screen Writings, Ono requested he keep spelling errors and unusual punctuation as accurate reflection of “the informal Fluxus aesthetic of the time”.

Considering such material manifestations leads to philosophical and procedural questions: Does the score need to be enacted? Is the display of the score as an art work itself a performance of the score? If the scores are “instructions” then is the result what is instructed, or something other that emerges from performing those instructions, perhaps unrealised to those who presumed themselves to be instructor or instructed, or some other less defined participant?

 

 

Yoko Ono, film still from Fly (1970)

 

 

Apt for exploring these questions is Ono’s own beautiful condition of IN-STRUCTURE, first formulated in a program note for a concert in Tokyo in 1964:

 

Something that emerged from instruction and yet not quite emerged – not quite structured – never quite structured… like an unfinished church with a sky ceiling.

 

*

 

 

The film scripts as a whole evidence Ono’s grappling with all the material, perceptual, temporal, and event characteristics making up the film making/ watching process. Instructions include: cut out a disliked part of the screen; make a film of an entire life from birth to death; make a travelogue without leaving the apartment; chase a girl on a street with a camera. In BOTTOMS the score reads: “String bottoms together in place of signatures for petition for piece.” In OMNIBUS FILM Ono suggests giving multiple directors the same footage and screening one after another the differently edited films.

 

 

Yoko Ono, film strip from Bottoms (1966)

 

 

Collected together, the film scores become an essay in the pervasive workings and influence of cinema. As an experiment to this end, Ono proposed to Scott MacDonald burying a film underground for fifty years:

 

Any film, any cheap film, if you put it underground for fifty years, becomes interesting [laughter]. You just take a shot of people walking, and that’s enough: the weight of history is so incredible.

 

The films themselves work with this weight in various ways. Consider Bottoms (1966), which demonstrates how Ono’s films are often not about what they are obviously about:

 

For me the film is less about bottoms than about a certain beat, a beat you didn’t see in films…. comparable to a rock beat. Even in the music world there wasn’t that beat until rock came. It’s the closest thing to the heartbeat.

 

Ono also emphasised to MacDonald how ”I enjoy the editing part of filmmaking most of all; that’s where the films really get made.” Bottoms post-production work involved an interplay of sound and image comprising interviews with participants, including comments about how boring the film was likely to be, and excerpts from Ono being interviewed by the British press.

Form was always intimately tied to content for Ono. Asked to make a follow up on breasts, she agreed on the condition that it would involve only a single breast.

 

*

 

A film like Fly opens itself to diverse viewings: “One of the interesting things about watching the film Fly is that one’s sense of what the body we’re seeing is about, and what the film is about, is constantly changing.” Or: “In Fly, Ono expresses her own search for personal freedom, as well a concern with the role of woman as passive object…. Fly can be read as a metaphor for the split self.” [3]

For Ono, introducing a screening of her films at the Whitney Museum in 2000, both the fly and the woman were autobiographical. All these readings – even those that admit multiplicity upfront, inevitably miss some of the endless perspective shifting her films consistency of focus prompts, quite how it locates us on the edge of completely different positions.

To think about Fly is to adapt another Yoko Ono score that asks the audience to look at a round object until it becomes square and vice versa. Or, I think watching the film again on youtube, body becoming fly, victim becoming voyeur, vice versa and back again.

 

 

*

 

 

Compare Fly with such contemporaneous films as Michael Snow’s Wavelength (1966-7)(which Ono saw and admired) and Warhol’s Henry Geldzhaler (1964). All three films share an interest in sustained focus, but understand the relations and consequences of this duration differently.

 

 

 

 

Ono’s fascination with the editing stage of film making is one distinction. If for Warhol the persistence of the camera’s gaze causes a crumbling of Geldzhaler’s public self, then for Ono the female body is still, almost deathly so, throughout. Geldzhaler’s restless shiftings on the sofa are transferred to the act of looking itself.

Snow’s film, meanwhile, famously zooms across a New York apartment to where the film frame becomes filled with the waves in a small photograph pinned onto the wall. Ono’s camera gaze literally leaves the room through the window, seeing first the New York roof tops and then – a movement that also defines Apotheosis (1970, attributed to John Lennon) – a move up into the sky.

There also seems to be a different personality of power in Ono’s film. In Snow and Warhol, the incessant camera and/or the length of the film reel very evidently organise the film. In Fly it is more the various flies and the body itself that have this quality of holding the viewer to a particular duration. When Yoko does focus on the dynamics of the camera – in Rape (1969), where a woman encountered on the street is pursued aggressively by a camera crew that force their way into her home – the engagement with the camera gaze is much more violent and direct than in either of her male contemporaries.

Each film maker, of course, produces a contradictory cinema which leaves me wondering if, in another writing, these three films might rotate between these different positions. Each also has their own forms of playfulness. In Ono the camera’s proximity reveals a delight in the flies dextrous, musical movement, evoking the choreographies of Merce Cunningham. There is also Ono’s extended vocal soundtrack for Fly – that seeks to improvise the contact point of voice, fly, camera and Lust’s body.

Consider this, too, in relation to how Ono’s film making was aesthetically and practically rooted in particular domestic, social and professional relationships. Early films, such as No.1 (Match) (1966) were made after George Macunias acquired temporary use of a high speed scientific film camera; and all Ono’s film work can be read as a collaboration with John Lennon (films were attributed to whoever had the original concept, but were worked on collaboratively).

Such a position was articulated in Ono’s short essay On Film No.4 (1967), where she observed:

 

 

The film world is becoming terribly aristocratic, too. It’s professionalism all the way down the line. In any other field: painting, music, etc., people are starting to become iconoclastic. But in the film world – that’s where nobody touches it except the director. The director carries the old mystery of the artist… This film proves that anybody can be a director… I’m hoping that after seeing this film people will start to make their own home movies like crazy.

 

*

 

 

Fly ends with sky. Both as actual movement, idea and metaphor, sky – and a gesture of the camera or eye upwards – is ever present in Yoko’s work. Take the project “Half A WindShow” at London’s Lisson Gallery in 1967:

 

TV to see the sky: This is a TV just to see the sky. Different channels for different skies, high-up sky, low sky etc. y.o.

 

Or the more specific SKY EVENT for John Lennon of spring 1968, with ladders for climbing up to view the sky, being careful not to “talk loud or make noise, as you may scare the sky.” Or this, from her letter TO THE WESLEYAN PEOPLE (1966):

 

I would like to see the sky machine on every corner of the street instead of the coke machine. We need more skies than coke.

 

To move in the sky, of course, is to fly. Also in TO THE WESLEYAN PEOPLE, Ono writes: “Another Event that was memorable for me was “Fly”, at Naigua Gallery in Tokyo. People were asked to come prepared to fly in their own way. I did not attend.”

 

 

 

 

Other works include billboards at five locations in Richmond, Virginia (1996), each bearing the word FLY, both score itself and enactment of the earlier:

 

FLY PIECE

Fly.

Summer 1963

 

When this is presented in monographs, the assumption seems to be that this is the act of aerial suspension, not the insect, but it is the pun of these two identical words that provides one tool for reading the films own doubleness, how explicit actions and instructions are ghosted, articulated and not, by the implicit.

Consider, too, other one or two word declarations in Ono’s work, how they function ambiguously, with their intertwining of simplicity and impossibility:

 

 

IMAGINE PEACE

*

 

I saw Ono at Tate Britain during the 2004 Art and The 60s: This was Tomorrow exhibition. The discordant music and entrapped body that I remember from her short performance seemed to vanish when it came to the Q&A. Are there any new Beatles CD’s planned? someone asked.

I got impatient, put up my hand and asked about the legacy of the work in the exhibition for artists working today. “What is important” said Ono, looking out into an audience reflected back at themselves via her trademark shades, “is what you do now.”

The evening concluded with a large vase that Ono smashed with a sledgehammer. Let’s meet in 10 years and put the vase back together again, she said. There then followed a ruck to get a piece of the vase, during which Ono – neglecting to collect email addresses from the frenzy – was ushered away by security.

 

 

Yoko Ono, film still from Fly (1970)

 

 

Likewise, Ono’s film scores are not, despite her requests and protestations, straightforwardly saying: Make this film. They are, more broadly, instigating a situation in which certain relations of gender, power, death and violence, are evidenced. The insights might not be experienced by the person enacting them, or only later, mediated through film, and/or distance, maybe of continents and decades, or not.

 

 

*

 

 

Back to flies. Ono’s most sustained engagement with the insect- Fly was not Fly at all, but Museum of Modern (F)art, which begun as an advert in the Village Voice in December 1971, purportedly for an exhibition at MOMA.

Attempting to visit the exhibition meant possibly encountering a man with a sandwich board outside. The board said that flies had been put in a glass container that had the same volume as Ono’s body, and which was then placed in the middle of MOMA’s sculpture garden. The flies were released, and a photographer dispatched to document their travels around the city.

The flies, it was claimed, were identifiable by the odour of the artists favourite perfume, which had been placed in the container. Handbills invited passers by to join the search, and the catalogue for the “show” identified locations where the flies had been, with arrows indicating the precise location.

Perhaps it is more appropriate to think of Ono’s films, too, as constructions of a particular kind of landscape that need not necessarily distinguish between score and idea; instruction, intention and inhabitation. A sky cinema is one name for such a landscape. But is the sky projected, or the screen for a projection, or the film itself? In this later case, what is the camera?

I watch the film again. It is there, for example, in the moment two flies turn their attention to one another, on a flat desert landscape between two rocky tors that might once have been (Lust’s) shoulder blades. A fly on a nipple. Or a fly into a vagina, recalling Nam June Paik’s score for Dick Higgins’ Danger Musicwhich instructs: Creep into the Vagina of a Living Whale. Moments when the landscape of vision is without its normal censorings, although the same freedom proposes us voyeurs and necrophiliacs.

For the reader/ listener/ viewer of Ono’s works, too, this sense of landscape encourages a reading that cross-pollinates between aspects, media and times of her score-based practice. So the tactility of the painting instruction scores can expand our sense of the kinds of relation prompted by the film scripts, and vice versa; whilst the techniques of the Bottoms soundtrack leads to an expanded reading of the vocal improvisations of Fly: Ono’s guttural vocals variously a special kind of news report, interview, sports commentary and écriture féminine.

 

 

*

 

 

Ono’s contemporary response to the 1968 score Fly was her 2003 decision to re-imagine the work as an installation. Six video monitors and DVD players in a darkened room installed at eye level on plinths, showing the same film.

The frame has always been central to Ono’s film project – a special measuring instrument was constructed to ensure correct placement of the buttocks in Bottoms – and the video monitor offers another level to this originally 16mm work, transferring a work originally screened at the Elgin Theatre, New York in 1970 into a more (domestically associated) constriction.

More broadly, I think about Ono’s work reading Dorothea Von Hantelmann’s 2010 treatise How to Do Things with Art. This focusses on Daniel Buren, James Coleman, Tino Seghal, and Jeff Koons to argue change occurs through “dependency on conventions” rather than any fictive critical position outside them. [4]

 

 

 

 

Sometimes the arguments in Hantelmann’s book suggest a development of score-based practice beyond Ono’s concerns – particularly Seghal’s purely oral practice of script and score, on the level of both the score and its realization, documentation, contractual and archival arrangements with gallery and collector.

More often, however, what emerges from the practices Hantelmann chronicles is the high level of control such work involves, its risk of imprisoning work, ideas, audiences and artists within constricted notions of material, audience, location, economy, effect and now.

Counter to this, Fly, and Ono’s score practice more broadly, emerges once again, to be valued for its messy, domestic, conceptual, gendered, contradictory, turbulent, instructive and helpfully misleading engagements with enactment and possibility.

 

 

*

 

 

Go and find all the skies throughout a scored based art practice.

 

 

 

NOTES

 

[1]Introduction to “SIX FILM SCRIPTS BY YOKO ONO Tokyo, June 1964” reprinted in Scott MacDonlad, ed. Screen Writings: Scripts and Texts by Independent Filmmakers (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1995).

[2]Scott MacDonald, “Interview with Yoko Ono,” in Yoko Ono: Ideas on Film,” Film Quarterly, vol.43, no.1 (Fall 1989).

[3]Scott MacDonald, “Interview with Yoko Ono,” ibid., and Chrissie Iles, “Erotic Conceptualism: The Films of Yoko Ono” in Alexandra Munroe with Jon Hendricks eds. YES: YOKO ONO (New York, Harry N.Abrams, 2001).

[4]Dorothea Von Hantelmann, How to Do Things with Art (Zurich, JRP Ringier, 2010).

 

 
Yoko Ono’s TO THE LIGHT is at the Serpentine Gallery, London, from 19 June-9 September 2012. More info here.

 

 

 

VSK PROJECT LUCY HARVEST CLARKE & STEPHEN EMMERSON: WITH ALL WINDOWS A NET CAST DYES THE WORLD

In Uncategorized on June 12, 2012 at 7:00 pm

 

 

on the back telegraph pole slow

underneath the pylon truth

green tallow fly taking back tree

fell off field now & cycle pump

separating ice combined lapse

rib my metal roof last week behind ear

currency years at combined IQ of marble

if this were the final emergency exit window

it was undercranked fire extinguish home

slipped through as snow train coming

 
 
 

a grey lake break blue x carriage

I want you for my wake graffiti

persons cannot touch gas tower burns distance

pack it up pack it in so signal same again

one continuous fuck boils in milk then

“HOLD” MAKE “HOLD” hanging garment sky

always must’ve been within outdoor of us

reservoir writ large unended pattern time

depth to the neck terminating at Doncaster

double A double B double C & as water circles

 
 
 

I turned a sheep the Celsius tips return

one delta zero nine floating nipple sun

why don’t you just concrete it mixes

and it will be if breathing ‘fuck’

black bale snow pail now approaching Newark

bring me my jacket gum under the table

you got rubble trouble the shellsuit rips

the allotment changes hands pushchair farm/tyres

disposable/ disponible down with the sisters

a sheep turned like receiving a body

 

 
//
 
 

you just have to be telegraph enzyme patrol

brassic canal side cooked swan on water

monstrosity oeuf lumpy protest batter

feels hard today windfarm heart glue

a round house on glass wing decisions

with all windows a net cast dyes the world

and bricks in a V pylon song to the sea

and a dead lion tree volting foam axes

disbanded moss electric water face

come track come site & units to let

 
 
 

night is sighing 5 past your face

we want you to enjoy generator room blues

superbly stoned abandoned works are steal

your back street brisket is powered by dead skin

cupping the rose miles are equal to loss

there is a way to then wind yr own road

standing to the wind our morning ritual

this hay is fake I cannot tell from birds

some brown is wicked so often across fields

others just nib my hand on the fence

 
 
 

just like everything else into the sound place

held dapper gallery through chemical phone

your eyes are the eggs matches into my stricken

the untold version so open the magpies chest

land internal so a horse meat breath

lichen this to burnt circle landing

we are going home no wood becomes forest

12 deers & lighthouse liquid nose for glass

cannot deroof England then exit the window

imperial finish the bridge where they grow

 

 
//

 
 

hold on window perfect salmon face

the bush is spared a rose window does it

mass joke archive how erased villains warn

curtailed torso thrust a baptist shoe

your words hundred now a pillow wink inky

you can help by balance with kite

big hand old placid white spruce madras

I curtain blossom it itch gallic tincture

so that wood entrails because I can’t look

cornerstone led in love though lipsed with salt

 
 
 

constance is a hierarchy doused spider hour

under your slipping bag notching the paper cast

summertime awkwardly it is not Mars

with the peacocks all maybe thirsty for tit

you suggest like scarab or in tunnel cut

seven three seven two were not we breathing

sickly is tungsten is way outs arrow undressed

the hard flinched public for it divides en route

push apart to open pen ultimate in pencil

the first to be pressed to lock saw town

 
 
 

sorry about the table silicone distortion organ

you have your self puddled for what end ear or sink

moon closer than mocha to shortly arrive in Headcorn

so if a skull softens after all gears labelled

a handle is a handle even Frascati madam

perforated in blightly link without crown

I’d like to burn carpets are blister trains

bucket sand at your peril lumpy fact to work

red worms and reed worms that gone wither

capsize if it fits it to break then jump

 

 
 
 
//
 
 

More work by Lucy Harvest Clarke here and Stephen Emmerson here.