It's far to easy to deride Yoko Ono. She "broke up the Beatles," her peace-and-love message is far too earnest for today's world. I disagree: I think her work, especially in the early years, was brave and visionary. And Cut Piece has a lot to do with it.
Considering the time (1964), Ono's gender and Japanese heritage, the work is, to me, profound and frightening, conjuring thoughts about sacrifice, the outward manifestations of power and class, and the very real possibility of a simmering deviance beneath the surface of our culture (in one performance, a man stood over Ono with the scissors drawn as if to stab her). In the piece, Ono simply knelt quietly on stage while people came up and cut pieces of her clothing off. When the Japan Society's exhibition Y E S YOKO ONO came to the Walker several years ago, two of my friends performed the piece: Lisa d'Amour and, at the request of Kim Gordon, who was speaking at the Walker for the show, Jim Bovino (one of the rare men to perform the work). In the 21st century, they found the work to be unnerving and difficult, and requiring a lot of meditation, preparedness, and--in a nondenominational way--faith. Yoko's Buddhism, she's said, permeated the work. I can't help but read the following quote through that lens: when all else is cut away--our markers of power, gender roles, or fashion... or whatever facades we throw up--what's left?
"People went on cutting the parts they do not like of me,” Yoko explained later. "Finally there was only the stone remained of me… but they were still not satisfied and wanted to know what it’s like in the stone."
View Ono's 1965 performance of Cut Piece