At 80, Yoko Ono remains an adventurous and committed artist as well as a woman who chooses her own path.
Half-A-Wind Show, a retrospective of Ono's work, opened in Frankfurt in February. It examines both her new artwork as well as her earliest creations: the conceptual art she produced in the 1960s that first attracted the attention of her late husband, John Lennon.
He first met Ono while attending a London gallery opening where he climbed a ladder to read, with a magnifying glass, the word "yes" she had taped to the ceiling. Posting key words on gallery walls was among the early cutting-edge artistic ideas she put into practice — though at that time, in 1966, it was not picked up by other artists.
"I was inspired to do that and whenever I’m inspired, I don’t hesitate," Ono told CBC’s Eleanor Wachtel.
The idea of halves and of what is "unknowable" is a frequent inspiration for Ono, she said.
"I was having a relationship with a guy, but I was not getting along too well by then, and one morning he didn’t come home so there is a big empty space on the other side of the bed," she said in an interview for CBC Radio's Wachtel on the Arts, a segment of Ideas.
"Chemically speaking or biologically, we research things, but we don’t know half of them. We only know our half of it — symbolically — and we don’t know ourselves more than half," Ono said.
A pioneering conceptual artist and musician, Ono is also a dedicated peace advocate, from the days of her bed-in for peace with Lennon to the creation of the LennonOno Grant for Peace to her art project the Imagine Peace Tower.
Born in Tokyo in 1933 to an aristocratic family, she describes her childhood as isolated, but privileged. Her banker father and painter mother moved the family to the countryside to escape the bombing of Tokyo during the Second World War. She also spent part of her childhood in the U.S. and was educated at Sarah Lawrence College outside New York.
"I got that rebellious nature from my childhood, from my parents, my grandparents. They were really living in a bubble, thinking that was how it should be," Ono said. "I wanted not to join this group of people."
She described how overhearing one of the servants in her childhood home describe a woman panting while in labour. It helped inspire some of the unique sounds she eventually used in her avant-garde music.
"I wanted to replicate what was in my memory. She was having a baby. She was [groaning] …What a strong, strong thing you have. You have this strong thing because we [women] created the human race," Ono said. "We have very strong voice, that is why I did that."
The reaction to some of the recordings was strong, she said. "Most people didn’t like it. '[They said] Oh my god, what is she doing?’"
Ono spoke to Wachtel about her inspirations, refusing to censor herself and how interactivity, long been part of her artistic process, has now come of age.