Why Yoko Ono's latest exhibit is asking strangers to touch
Our world can feel distant and impersonal, dominated increasingly by digital-only interactions. Luckily, there is some gentle reprieve to be found in contemporary art. For example, Miranda July recently released her Somebody app, which lets you coordinate a verbal delivery of a text message to a friend, by a stranger, based on proximity to your recipient. Another such tactile project? Just last week, acclaimed conceptual artist Yoko Ono asked strangers to touch one another, all as a part of her newest show.
MoMA’s newly opened exhibit, “Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960–1971” showcases a lot of her early conceptual work. This period, from 1960 to 1971, covers the era during which Ono became a cultural icon and a household name, primarily because of her controversial relationship with John Lennon. However, it’s for her art and philosophy that she’s remained in the public eye. And yes, some of that art involves touching.
One of the most compelling pieces in the MoMA show is “Touch Poem for Group of People,” in which a room full of strangers is asked to touch one another. Conceptualized in 1963, the only direction that Ono gives her viewers/participants? Touch each other.
In a recording for MoMA, Ono talked about the motivation for the piece and why it’s still relevant: “At the time I really wanted people to touch each other, physically, because we never do that in those days. Even now, it’s a pity, we’re getting not closer but more distant to each other.”
What ensues is, inevitably, collaborative, sensitive and poetic. Here are the instructions for the piece:
Although Ono originally developed this work in 1963, its inclusion in this show is proof that its message still matters. When we get too removed from other people, we can lose sight of the importance empathy, sensitivity, awareness.
Other pieces in the show include “To See the Sky,” a spiral staircase that visitors can climb to the ceiling; “Painting to be Stepped On,” which is exactly what it sounds like; “Apple,” which is simply a green apple that John Lennon took a bite out of when he saw it at her 1966 show in a London gallery (that was how they met); and the famous “Bed In” movie, featuring Lennon and Ono as they tried to raise awareness for world peace.
We love that this showcase is such an important reminder of the value of human connectivity and interaction. You don’t have to be in a museum to re-engage with the physical world and those around you. All you have to do is look up from your gadgets! Who knows, maybe someone else will be looking up, too.