Yoko Ono’s solo show opened last month at Haunch of Venison with a polysemous title, Das Gift, and a bullet hole in a shattered glass pane. On one side, a rank of army coats sway darkly from invisible threads. Ono posed behind it, while the paparazzi stood in for the firing squad. A large blank canvas on the wall, slashed by Ono, is equipped with exhibition-sized needles and thread for visitors to sew up the gashes. In the next room, maps invite people to stick traumatic locations with pins. Upstairs, visitors record themselves smiling.
We sat down with her at the exhibition’s opening.
Why is the exhibition called Das Gift?
Well, I was wondering what the title should be. Everyone was saying, “When are you gonna give me the title?!” And I just couldn’t think of it. Then I went to this bookshop and they showed me this book with beautiful, beautiful illustrations. And underneath, it said “Das Gift”. My friend who was there thought it must be the same word as in English. Then the bookshop guy came over and showed us the dictionary. And I thought, “Oh my God, this is great!” Because this show is about a poisoned reality that can become a gift – a kind of learning. But then the present can also be a poison. For all the individual pieces in the show, I have titles in English and the translation. But for the title of the whole show, I just kept it in German. “Das Gift!” It’s beautiful.
A lot of your work is concerned with this – changing the nature of objects. You provide instructions that, when followed, change the object.
That’s what I do, yes. For instance, there’s the Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland. People make wish trees and all the wishes are sent to the Tower. Some people are saying, “What you gonna do if the wishes are bad wishes?” And I’m saying that because the Imagine Peace Tower is so strong, and all the other wishes are coming from people wishing for world peace because that’s all so strong, anything evil that comes in there will change its character.
Can people change, do you think?
Of course. We can change ourselves; we can change the planet. One day, I think, we will be in a position where everything on Earth will be all right. And the only reason why we don’t get that is because we think, “What if it becomes boring?!” No, it’s not going to become boring. Because there will be so many things to do! We might even fly to another planet or something. Just to look, y’know. Just to check it out, or say hello, or whatever. And we haven’t even learnt all the languages on the planet – of the birds, of the elephants and the giraffes. You know, they’re all talking too. But we don’t understand them – at this point. So, it’s a kind of magic.
You’ve spoken before about the relationship between science and magic… Well, I think that scientists have become deteriorated – at least some of them. Just as the rest of the world has. They started thinking logically about making money. And that is totally different from the actual thing science itself should do – and that’s to explore things: to reveal things for us. Not to just do research for money. And so they lost the magic. But if they just stick with their inspiration – because inspiration is very important – and do what they really love, then they will maintain and retain the magic.
What is magic?
Magic is something given to us that we do not have knowledge of before we get it. And even when we get it, we probably don’t know its actual power. But it’s given to us. That’s all I can say.
Can magic, in the wrong hands, also become a poison?
I’m not that concerned about that. You know why? Because evil does not have any power unless we put power in it. We put power into evil, by recognizing that it’s there – if we put all our energy in it, being concerned about it and being careful of it. You know? And that’s the only way that evil exists. If you know that, it’s just not there. The reason that I have so much love is because the whole world hated me. And sent me all these incredibly strong vibrations of hatred. And I thought, “What am I gonna do with it?” And I found a way of transforming that energy – such a strong energy – into an energy of love. So I have a lot of love.
How do you explain your strength? A lot of people would have crumpled under that kind of pressure.
Well, each time I’m up against a wall, I come up with this… I get inspired by how to get out of it…. Y’know? So, I could have been squashed by that incredible amount of hatred. But then I found a way of transforming it into love. And that’s big, it’s very big. I’m not a strong person. But I am a person who thinks.
What guides your work?
Inspiration. I don’t limit myself to one medium. Anything that comes in my mind, sometimes it comes in as music, sometimes it comes in as visual. So each time it comes in, I know what to do.
DAS GIFT | Through November 13