A YOKO ONO ASSIGNMENT

, by Zoë Gulliksen

The Fluxus movement struck me a few weeks ago when we visited the Zimmerli museum exhibit. I was fascinated by the idea of interactive art and the way one could take something tangible and make it into art. The box full of a “divorce” was one of the most memorable pieces. The concept of taking real objects that represented a relationship and then destroying them made me very sad and yet extremely curious. Their wedding album itself was cut in half horizontally to signify the splitting on their union.
I was never one for art, it takes a lot for me to connect with a piece. But the Fluxus piece told a story and left me wanting more.
My favorite part of the exhibit however was the little instructional poems such as Alison Knowles “Make a Salad.” It was incredibly simply and yet left such an open interpretations. The person who decides to “make a salad” can make a salad in any single way they can imagine: alone, with hundreds of people, naked, under water, on top of a roof, singing or crying. I wanted to try one for my own.
Yoko Ono once was quoted that Fluxus was her inspiration. She had many pieces, such as the coloring stencil at the Zimmerli, but I found others online including a poem of hers:
SMOKE PAINTING
Light canvas or any finished painting with a cigarette at any time for any length of time.
See the smoke movement.
The painting ends when the whole canvas or painting is gone.
1961 summer

This one immediately struck me because a painting takes a tremendous amount of work and effort and here Ono was asking us to destroy it.  In order to do this poem, I had to make a slight change.I don’t smoke and nobody that I live with smokes so instead I just lit a painting with a match.Before that, however, I painted a painting myself.

I chose to paint a piece myself because Fluxus is about “all seek to break with ordinary or everydayexperience, and to create some kind of a space for surprise, spontaneity, and so on”. I am a creative writing major with no sense of artistic talent what so ever. My brother is attends MasonGross art school where he is constantly drawing, painting, sketching and taking a
ridiculous amount of photos. This was never me, I cannot paint or draw a house to save my life. I figured that there would be nothing more out of the ordinary than to take a few hours at night to paint. I asked my brother for some of his large sketching paper, and took my sister’s water color set from school.

I had no idea what to paint or where to even begin. But I did know that I should focus entirely on this project and nothing else, because that was another thing I was unacustomed to. I’m used to doing multiple things at once, for instinace with this painting I would have put on a movie in the background while I painted. but I wanted to fully experience this exercise. Instead I put on the You’ve Got Mail original score soundtrack. The wordless music would provide a comforting ambience.

Then I began painting. My muse in writing has always been New York City, Manhattan specifically. I’m drawn to the people and the fact that at any given moment something extraordinary can happen. I tried to transfer that feeling of longing, comfort and magic I use in my writing to the paper without the use of words. 
For once I did not plan ahead what I was doing. Instead I began simply with grey strokes that turned into buildings in
Manhattan, such as The Empire State Building, the Cartier building (which came to mind because it is now wrapped in a red bow due to the holidays) and other offices. In the background I tried to capture the traveling subway to the other boroughs and on the streets all the little taxi cabs. I also knew a bit in that I did not want the city landscape to be everything, that there was more to this painting.
Thats why I added in the table, the mug of tea or coffee or hot chocolate, The New
Yorker magazine and scraps of paper scribbled on. It gave more depth to the person who owns these objects, and gives them a story. Finally at the end I signed my name along the handle of the mug, thus ending the art by making it official. It was not until this point that the Fluxus exercise actually began. I first tried to take my painting outside with a few matches but it was pouring and terribly windy. After ten minutes of trying to get the painting to catch fire, I finally gave up and headed back inside.
Then it was another ten minutes of trying to find more matches. I settled on burning the painting at my kitchen sink, which I attempted to capture on camera, which can be found at this link:  Painting Burning
The problem however was that the flames became too big for me to work my camera and handle the fire. I had to soon turn off the camera and watch my painting become consumed by the fire and the pieces fly all over my sink. The smoke started to rise to my ceiling and I became increasingly worried about the smell of the smoke and setting off the fire alarm, which would anger my parents.
Then, after all of that, my painting had fully dissipated, the last remains put out by water and drained down the sink. My Fluxus interactive art had ended. Now what did I gather from this experience? The point of this was to do something completely out of the ordinary and unusual. My brother was confused when I asked him for paper and even more so when I explained that I wanted to paint. My sister was in the same room with me reading when I burnt the painting. I was tweeting to my followers (over 2,900 of them) about how proud I was of painting and giving them updates along the way. Then when I mentioned that I had to burn it, many of them were extremely surprised!
Many of my followers expressed concern, they asked if my professor was dropping acid when assigning this project, they asked what Fluxus was, and wanted to see what my painting look like. I stirred up the norm online and around me, causing people to pause and ask what the point of my actions were. This was not normal behavior, as opposed to the “Make A Salad” poem, which could be considered ordinary.
This was not as interactive as most of the other Fluxus pieces, such as playing ping pong with decorated paddles or skiing with four pairs of shoes on the skis. I could have made it more interactive by burning the painting in public or even burning a painting I bought in the store. However, by documenting the activity online and giving my followers a play by play and having them still interact with my actions.

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