Research I: Yoko Ono – Cut Piece


It is a general term that the audience is co-present in a performance. The performer shares the same space, the same time and the same air with the present members of the audience. The relationship exists in any case, and, either as artist or as audience, audience brings their own interpretation to the artwork.

“Audiences are ignored because many see the primacy of meaning and
pleasure in the artwork as residing in a supposed unmediated understanding
of the specific work or in the artist’s intention.”

– Nick Zangwill

People are not fixed, there’s nothing that they’re meant to think. The audience as fully integral part of art and performance adds complexity not many artists want to work with. But not Yoko Ono, she challenges and involves the audience, in her joint relationship between herself as the performer and her audience who are the driving force of the performance. The audience supports her and that act becomes the artwork in Cut Piece, 1964. In Cut Piece, Yoko Ono made particular effort to engage with the audience directly and aimed to focus on the object of artistic production as means to and a platform for what can be considered direct action offered to the spectator.

As seen in the video above, the audience is invited to cut her clothes.The seemingly impassive Yoko Ono sat on a stage as an audience undressed her with a pair of scissors. This action is aimed at the participant’s experience of the self via relations with others. In these first performances by Yoko Ono, she sat kneeling on the concert hall stage, wearing her best suit of clothing, with a pair of scissors placed on the floor in front of her. Members of the audience were invited to approach the stage, one at a time, and cut a bit of her clothes off – which they were allowed to keep. As she had no control over what the audience could or are capable of doing, the performance piece made one of the players rather than the director. She strives to destroy these prescribed boundaries of relations and encourage the audience to subscribe to new roles of performer, participator and collaborator rather than just being a passive spectator.

This piece explored trust. Yoko Ono once said that “at Carnegie Hall, it [Cut Piece] seemed to draw violence out of the audience, like a poison. It is a frightening piece to perform. Very tense, but I wanted to show that we have to trust each other. If I’m going to say that, I have to do it myself. I have to trust people myself.”

Cut Piece, Yoko Ono (1964) Source.

While relationships between performers and their audiences seem obvious throughout the history of art–think about any singer, poet, or stage actor performing in front of a live crowd and how the crowd’s reaction can in turn affect the artist – it is the advancement of the importance of the interactivity between artist and audience where process is as much a part of the work as is the product itself. It fully reaches beyond a single person’s perspective and consciousness, and explores the dialectic of who we are as an individual and as a public body.

Yoko Ono’s long dedication to collective activism can be seen in the participatory nature of many of her art works. Without interaction with others these works would be incomplete. They are a collaboration with gallery visitors and they symbolise what positive effects can be achieved when total strangers work together. It is a multiplication of connections and disconnections that reframe the relation between bodies, the world they live in and
the way in which they are ‘equipped’ to adapt to it.

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“If you don’t create tension in the work, you’re not really looking at the qualities of the medium…
or the qualities of art.”

– Article reading, Welcome to the ‘Electronic Cafe International’


In 1988, Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz established Electronic Café International (ECI), a performance space and real café housed in the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, California. They aimed to create an integration of cultures and communities, the arts, audience; and the integration of art forms. Thus, they sought out to define the basic human requirements to facilitate a “creative conversation” between people even if they did not speak the same language. They strived to create a performance place with no geographical boundaries in which we can communicate with other artists by conducting real-time “chats” via computer. The work also attempts to collapse the relationship between art and audience – aiming to create a democratic and fully integrated notion of spectatorship and culture sharing.