Cut Piece



Cut Piece

by Yoko Ono
Interactive art, performance art

View a still from a performance

A woman sits on the stage of Carnegie Hall, her legs neatly folded beneath her. She faces forward, blankly staring out into the crowd. One by one, members of the audience approach with a pair of scissors in hand, then strip away her demure clothing. As her body is slowly exposed, she remains closed and unflinching, her eyes set straight ahead. Cut Piece may be billed as an artist’s performance, but it is the spectators who further the action.

Over time, the participants become increasingly emboldened. The suspense grows as the material falls to the floor in reams. We are acutely aware of the artist’s voluntary vulnerability; her fate lies in the hands of strangers. When the artist’s chest is eventually exposed, her eyes begin to dart around the stage. Waiting apprehensively for the end point, we feel increasingly complicit in the removal of each sheared shred.

Words by Katherine Fieldgate

Yoko Ono sits cross-legged, her expression neutral. She is approached by a woman, who begins to snip at her sleeve. Were it not for her casual posture, she could be having an outfit tailored. Yet only a scrap of the fabric is removed. Several more individuals repeat the action, removing rag after rag. Some of them joke with friends who lurk beyond the camera’s gaze, but none engage directly with the subject.

Although Ono is orchestrating the piece, her passive acceptance creates a sense of uncomfortable tension. Silent and motionless, her presence is reduced to that of a mannequin. As more skin is bared at the whim of others, her dignity seems to erode. While the ritual is not overtly sexual, it brings the anticipation of nudity into sharp focus. Whether viewers dread her unclothing or encourage it, they are challenged to consider why.

Words by Sophia Martin-Pavlou

More to discover

You can watch the artwork here, and read more about it on the MoMA and Phaidon websites. Kevin Concannon has discussed the different interpretations of Cut Piece for Imagine Peace, while Kate O. has analysed the work for the Women and Art Culture blog.

Question of the day

Should artists ever endanger themselves?
Share your thoughts on FacebookPatreon, or Twitter.

I would argue if the artist isn’t endangering themselves to some extent they’re being far too wary. You'll find little truth in caution.

– Lisa McInerney, author of The Blood Miracles and The Glorious Heresies (via The Brief →)

Oh, absolutely. I have a list of names for you! Where do I begin…?

– Joobin Bekhrad, Founder & Editor of Reorient (via The Brief →)

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