Like most of you, I am not generally a fan of Mondays- but I would be if every Monday started off by sharing the message of love via Yoko Ono’s Onochord with 20-some art history students!
A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking with Professor Roger Rothman’s Art 208: Modern Art, 1915-Now class about Yoko Ono’s work and our 2008 exhibition YOKO ONO IMAGINE PEACE: Featuring John & Yoko’s Year of Peace. Professor Rothman and I have worked twice now on an experimental course structure where he teaches a modern art class across the hall from the Samek in the LC Gallery Theatre and then uses works of art from the Bucknell Museum Collection to supplement lectures and course readings almost every class period. It has been a fun and flexible experiment for us and we hope a meaningful experience for his students.
One drawback to this type of study, is that we admittedly have holes in our collection- such as with Professor Rothman’s section on Fluxus. As much as I would LOVE to have a fluxkit in the collection, we do not. What we do have is materials left over from YOKO ONO IMAGINE PEACE, such as the Image Peace Maps stamps and Onochord flashlights. They are not, however, accessioned into our collection and Professor Rothman asked me to explain why not to his class.
The answer: you cannot accession love! I know, I know… even I thought that sounded corny, but it’s true! Let’s look at Onochord. Onochord is a work of art and a participatory event. Conceived in 2004, it has had many iterations since; in fact, it might be ‘happening’ now. You can watch the video below to learn more about the piece, but essentially Yoko has given us instructions to send the message of love by flashing a light in a specific sequence. The work of art is enacted by this action.
For our manifestation of Onochord during YOKO ONO IMAGINE PEACE, we had small white flashlights printed with “ONOCHORD Lewisburg y.o. 2008” and we passed them out with instructions on how to send the message. The work of art is not the flashlight, or the instruction postcard; it is the act of the message of love being sent. It is a happening. The artwork exists while the message is being sent. Therefore, we have not accessioned one of these flashlights into our collection, nor should anyone. The flashlight, the postcard and any videos or photos recording the act are documents that record the performance of the piece.
Is this making sense?
So, who then is the artist? If I enact the instructions, am I the artist? Well, no. Yoko Ono is the artist. She conceptualized the piece and provided the instructions for how to make it happen. We are just… well, actors, materials or preparators, however it makes sense to you to see it. Let’s think about the Jim Campbell show we just closed at the Samek. When these large light installations arrived at the Samek they were simply wooden crates full of hardware. I, as the Registrar/Preparator, received instructions on how to make the work of art whole. I followed the instructions and there it was. Before it was unpacked and installed, each piece of hardware was simply artistic material. When put together as the artist intended, the work of art was complete and sent the artist’s message to the visitor. When one flashes a light in the sequence of i…ii…iii, Onochord is completed and the message of Yoko is sent. As much as I would love to claim Exploded View or Onochord was my own, I am not the artist, but I am grateful to play a part in helping Jim Campbell and Yoko Ono send you their messages.
If I could accession love or peace or Yoko, believe me… I would!
It isn’t everyday that Art History students get to see real works of art infront of their faces during study, rather than slides projected on a wall. It is even less frequent that they get to create works of art. I hope Professor Rothman’s students enjoyed this class as much as I did. I hope that they realized they weren’t just standing in a dark room flashing tiny lights at 9am on a Monday, but that they were essential instruments in Yoko Ono’s intention to send the message of love anywhere, everywhere.
i ii iii
Send the ONOCHORD message:
“I LOVE YOU”
by repeatedly blinking the light
in the frequencies and durations
required for the message:
from the top of the mountains
using whole buildings
in town squares
from the sky
and to the sky.
Keep sending the message
to the end of the year
Keep sending the message
everywhere on the Earth
and to the Universe
send the message by hand
or using flashlights
or with lighters
The message I LOVE YOU in ONOCHORD is:
I love you!
yoko ono 2004