Friday, November 25, 2022

Yoko Ono | A Hole To See The Sky Through

Yoko Ono
A Hole To See The Sky Through
Heidelberg, Germany: Edition Staeck,  1971
10 x 15 cm
Edition size unknown

While this card (the earliest iteration of the work in multiple format, that I'm aware of) dates the piece to 1971, elsewhere the work is credited to 1964 and even 1962. I'm not going to attempt a scholarly and comprehensive catalogue raisonné of the postcards, but over the next few entries I'll post other examples of the cards, as well as covers, tributes and parodies from other artists. 

The concept can be traced back to the 1961 score based work Painting to See The Skies, which asks the reader to 

Drill two holes into a canvas
Hang it where you can see the sky

(Change the place of hanging. 
Try both the front and the rear windows,
to see if the sky is different).

A Painting to See the Sky III proposes

See the sky between a woman's thighs.
See the sky between your own thighs. 
See the sky through your belongings by making holes in them. 
ie. pants, jacket, shirt, stockings, etc. 

The sky features prominently in Ono's work, something she shared with fellow Fluxus artist Geoffrey Hendricks, whose painting she used for the cover of Plastic Ono Band: Live in Toronto (see below). Other examples include Key to Open the Skies, Sky Event for John Lennon, and the song "Sky People", from the 1985 LP Starpeace.

Sky Machine from 1965, is a coin-operated dispenser that produces handwritten cards with the word "Sky" printed on them. Ono said "I would like to see the sky machine on every corner of the street instead to the coke machine. We need more skies that coke."

Clouds, too, are a frequent motif in the artist's work. "Cloud Piece" from the artist book Grapefruit, invites the reader to

Imagine the clouds dripping. 
Dig a hole in your garden to put them in. 

The word 'imagine' and some of the other concepts in the book inspired John Lennon's signature song of the same name, and the above text features on the verso of Lennon's 1971 LP of the same name (designed by Ono's Fluxus friend George Maciunas). The text was later materialized into the object A Shovel to Dig a Hole for the Clouds to Drop In

Together Ono and Lennon made the little-seen film Apothesis, which features the artists and camera in a rising hot air balloon. As the camera ascends into the sky, the frame goes white for several minutes, testing the patience of the viewer. Those who remain are rewarded when the camera rises above the clouds and reveals the sun and a beautiful cloudscape. 

I'm wary of simplistic origin stories (Joseph Beuys and his downed plane leading to the use of fat and felt in his work, for example) but Ono recounts a time from her early childhood during World War 2 where she was hiding in a barn with her brother, homeless and hungry, after her family fled the city due to US bomber planes. She describes them laying on the floor of the barn looking up at the sky through a crack in the ceiling, discussing imaginary menus of food they wished they could eat, to stave off the hunger. 

This is likely an inspiration for the postcard work, and many other ideas and themes that run through her practice. It's a simple poetic conceptual proposal that facilitates looking at the world in a slightly different manner. 

Above is the original 1971 version, published by artist Klaus Staeck. Edition Staeck has published numerous postcards by artists, including Beuys, Hanne Darboven, Robert Filliou, Sigmar Polke, Ben Vautier, and Dieter Roth, who also responded to Ono's card (see future post).

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