“Look at her face”

May 22, 2007

Above is a video of Yoko Ono performing her “Cut Piece” at Carnegie Hall in 1965.

This piece of art raises a lot of questions for me, perhaps the most important of which is whether it is possible to perform it “well” or, conversely, “poorly.” If the performer fails to sit passively, for example, it seems obvious that they are no longer performing “Cut Piece.” (Ono also produced a series of instruction pieces which existed solely as a series of sometimes non-performable instructions, such as “Hide and Seek Piece: Hide until everybody goes home. Hide until everybody forgets about you. Hide until everybody dies.”) But, provided that the performer is able to stay within the constraints of the piece can there be a superior performance?

Clearly, there can be better or worse situations created by the piece. This video was shot during the debut of the piece and can reasonably be assumed to have caught the audience off guard. Their reception of the piece is more “natural” as a result. Her passivity gives different members of the audience the chance to make spectacles of themselves and of their perversity until they are policed by other members of the audience: “Stop being such a creep!”

In her performance of this piece, there is the obvious difficulty of actually going through with it: her eyes seem to tear up at certain points, and she stops herself from pushing away one of the audience members. What does watching that do to us? Maybe it is the transparency of this difficulty that makes a good performance.

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