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20 March 2009 @ 10:02 pm
Imagining Yoko Ono  

While in New York City last weekend, I went to the New Museum and found a book called "Imagine Yoko" in the gift shop. Of course, it is Yoko Ono, so it's weird, but what I found most interesting while reading it, aside from her thoughts about what art is and world peace, is the way the book is constructed on the page. It looks like art and poetry.

The first half of the book is an image of Yoko Ono's art pieces with anything from one sentence to a short paragraph of her thoughts on the opposite page. Thoughts, such as, "Art is a way of survival," or, "I think it is possible to see a chair as it is. But when you burn the chair, you suddenly realize that the chair in your mind did not burn or disappear." Yoko's style reminds me a bit of Friedrich Nietzsche's in The Gay Science because she plays with thinking, with art, with her own life (growing up in World War II Japan), and she will sometimes contradict herself. It's hard to know what to take seriously, and yet it forces the readers to come to their own conclusions. It's a loosely constructed narrative when taken separately and, as you find out later, out of context. The images and the words ultimately fit together to create a unified message, kind of like modernism itself. I couldn't help thinking that the book's use of negative space and the unwillingness to fill the whole page with words was using silence in a way that is very typical of Asian American women and has been written about often in books from The Joy Luck Club to books about writing in Asian American Literature. It reminded me of what the architect, Billie Tsien, said at the New York Asian American International Film Festival in 2008 about her process of constructing her buildings. She said that she considers her approach Asian in the sense that she likes simplicity in the outside structure of a building. It won't make a loud, flashy statement, but if you take the time to come inside, you can see how the angles, the windows, and the lights show amazingly complex patterns. But, you have to make the effort to come in, just as in the first part of "Imagine Yoko," the reader has to create the message.

In the second section, Yoko switches it up, however, and gives you her words in their entirety. She also fills up the entire page. It's repetitious in parts, but we are given the wider context for the speeches, writings, or lectures that her thoughts had been pulled from, which creates another message entirely. It's not exactly literature with a capital L, but I think it's a fun, meaningful book that speaks to larger themes of Asian American art processes and aestheticism.

Secret Asian American Man: bootyshakersa_am on March 21st, 2009 09:29 pm (UTC)
hey thanks for this review of this book... i am way behind on yoko ono's work and given the centrality of her work as a source of inspiration more generally for other artists and writers, i need to do some more reading =)
THE BOWLER HAT: Hot child in the citythebowlerhat on March 22nd, 2009 12:58 am (UTC)
Ha ha. No problem. I have become fascinated with her in the past couple of years. It started with her music, and now with her art and writings. There are advertisements in the back of this book for some other collections that she has published, and I'm tempted to try to track those down too. And, apparently, Amazon is much cheaper than The New Museum with prices! ;)

"Imagine Yoko" also comes with a 14 minute DVD with excerpts of two of her videos ("Bottoms" and "Fly"), but I haven't watched those yet.
shadowy duckpylduck on March 22nd, 2009 04:00 am (UTC)
I'm fascinated with Yoko Ono, too, but haven't really read anything by her. Does her work resonate with Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee?
THE BOWLER HAT: Wait for methebowlerhat on April 7th, 2009 07:55 am (UTC)
Ha ha. Sorry, it took so long to get back to you. I actually only know about Dictee through secondary sources, so I'm not sure. From what I do know about Dictee, I would be inclined to think so though. I really do need to read that!