PRINT Summer 2009


Among the most poignant artworks made by Yoko Ono during her fifty-year career must be White Chess Set, 1966, in which all the pieces are white: As any game progresses, players will eventually find their sides impossible to tell apart. “Ideally,” Ono says, “this leads to a shared understanding of their mutual concerns and a new relationship based on empathy rather than opposition. Peace is then attained on a small scale.” So many of the artist’s works revolve around such reorientations and inversions of audience expectations. And yet it is likely her generosity with viewers—in asking them to take an active role in terms of her work’s interpretation and also its realization—that has made her increasingly compelling for artists working today. On the occasion of the artist’s being awarded the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Biennale—and on the fortieth anniversary of her Bed-In performance with John Lennon, currently the subject of an exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art—Artforum invited Ono to discuss her work with Rirkrit Tiravanjia, whose practice shares much with hers. Indeed, Tiravanija’s presence will also be felt in Venice, since the Biennale’s Palazzo delle Esposizioni will feature an informal meeting space and bookstore designed by the artist. Ono spoke with Tiravanija by phone from her New York residence one evening last month—or one morning, from Tiravanija’s perspective in Thailand—about work both past and present, as well as about possible futures. An excerpt from the conversation appears below. For the rest, pick up the Summer issue of Artforum.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Montreal Bed-In, 1969. Performance view, Queen Elizabeth Hotel, room 1742, Montreal, 1969. Photo: Jacques Bourdon.


YOKO ONO: I’m here. You sound really distant; why is that? Is it your phone, or . . . ?

RT: Well, I am in Thailand. [laughter]

YO: Oh, of course, that’s right. So we’ll have to sort of stretch our ears. It’s very interesting, doing it like this, you know. But please go ahead. You wanted to ask me some questions?

RT: Well, something noteworthy to me is that it’s the fortieth anniversary of the Bed-In, and maybe we should talk about that. Many people have heard a little bit about that moment already, I think, but maybe you could say more.

YO: I do feel that it was a very interesting performance-art work, in the sense that it has stayed in people’s minds for such a long time.

RT: That was something I found myself quite interested in, actually, because Bed-In seems like something that happened in an almost completely natural way.

YO: Yes, it did begin as a

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