Sunday, April 27, 2008

Hanging with Yoko

Last Friday I volunteered as a helper at Galerie Lelong in Chelsea, New York, where Yoko Ono had her opening for her new show, called ‘Touch Me’. It was a fun experience. The best part was assisting the functioning of the main piece, involving a large canvas perforated with holes. Visitors are encouraged to become part of this interactive piece, placing various body parts through the holes (and yes, before you ask, one or two people were brave enough to do what others only thought about). A polaroid is then taken as a record of the 'sculpture' created. Participants can either keep the photo or write a note on it for Yoko and pin it to a board.

I helped take the polaroids. I also had a good opportunity to people watch, observing the array of attention-grabbing outfits worn by members of the Chelsea gallery scene. One particular highlight is best described as the 'Just William' look. A young, lanky gay man wandered through the gallery wearing navy shorts, a pristene white shirt, braces, and white socks, neatly held up with dark coloured ribbons. Another guy had some kind of large animal tooth – possibly shark – strapped to each ear.

Yoko made her appearance towards the end of the event. I managed to take a few polaroids of her, tiptoeing to see beyond the swarms of journalists and excited visitors. I handed them to her later - she seemed to like them.

You might be wondering, what is Yoko like 'up close'? Most of all I was struck by her elusive, star quality. Clad in a bright white suit encrusted with a silver rhinestone pattern on the back and sporting a black fedora, she reminded me of Michael Jackson. It wasn’t just the androgynous clothes, though. It was the whole aura about her – the silence, the dark sunglasses, the mystery. I suppose that’s what makes people like her so intriguing – you are never sure where the persona ends and the real human begins.

As in her earliest performance pieces (some of which are on display at the show, in video form), Yoko keeps her real self hidden. This makes the title of her exhibition doubly provocative – she says ‘Touch Me’, but all we can touch is the surface, the mask, the image. But maybe that’s the whole point. By tempting us with a false proximity, she ultimately encourages us consider how much we can understand about an artwork, other humans, or ourselves.

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