Sunday, May 13, 2012

Yoko Ono: "Cut Piece" Analysis

ANALYSIS: The Cut Piece

              Yoko Ono did a performance called “Cut Piece” in 1965. In this piece, Ono sat on a stage wearing a black dress with a pair of scissors and invited viewers to participate by cutting her dress. As seen in the YouTube video, at the beginning of her piece people are very hesitant to cut her clothing, but as Ono’s performance goes on people become more daring. Near the end of her performance, participants cut more and more fabric of her dress, until it is left in tatters. One of the final male participants cuts her bra straps, almost revealing Ono’s breasts. Throughout most of the performance Ono sat still while people cut her dress, but near the end she began to move more, and then had to hold her bra up after the straps were cut, so that her breasts would not be revealed.
            Gender is addressed directly in this piece because Ono is becoming a sexual object. She does not talk or move much throughout “Cut Piece,” causing her to become an object rather than a subject with a say about what is being done to her. In class we have talked extensively about women being portrayed as sexual objects rather than subjects, and “Cut Piece” is showing Ono as a female sexual object rather than subject. Ono does not say anything throughout the piece, but through her facial expressions near the end of the YouTube clip, it is evident that she became uncomfortable with how sexually aggressive people have become with her body and her clothing.
        This work can relate to Joanna Frueh’s “The Body Through Women’s Eyes” because it directly deals with a woman’s body. Frueh says, “idealizations of the female body reflect and enforce cultural desires about a woman’s beauty and sexuality, her social place and power” (Frueh 190). Frueh also states that during the 1970’s women wanted to reclaim their body. While Ono’s piece was slightly before for the 1970’s, it can still be seen that she was trying to reclaim her body by exposing how others are willing to degrade it. In the video you can see people becoming more and more willing to cut off her clothing, which reveals more of her body. In the end she is almost nude, and by allowing others to expose her body she is reclaiming her own. She is also commenting on a woman’s social place and power through this piece. Throughout the performance she is sitting on the ground and not active. By allowing others to act on her as if she was an object rather than a subject, she depicts a woman’s social place and power as lower than that of a man’s, especially since the person who went so far as to cut her bra strap was a man.

            Adrienne Rich states “Yes, you can do this; this also belongs to you. Like government, art needs the participation of the many in order not to become the property of a powerful and narrowly self-interested few” (Rich 103). By allowing her audience to participate, Ono let her work also become her audience’s work as well. Not only does Ono make a statement about women being treated as sexual objects through her audience, by letting them participate she shows that the performance does not strictly belong to her. “Cut Piece” belongs to everyone involved.
        "Cut Piece" commented on sexual violence and aggression in my opinion, and because of that, it reminded me of our discussions on the femicide in Juarez. Ono's dress being physically cut by the audience reminded me of the tattered clothing left behind of the Juarez victims. In "To Work and Die in Juarez" it states that volunteers found ripped and cut underwear as well as a victim's overalls (Nieves). In "Cut Piece" Ono's bra is cut, similar to the cut underwear found in Juarez. The idea sexual violence and cut clothing presented in "Cut Piece" reminded me strongly of the femicide occurring in Juarez.
        This work is feminist art. Many people and critics view it as “proto- feminist” art (Concannon). Marcia Tanner believes that “Cut Piece” is feminist because it addresses the serious issues of sexual aggression, gender subordination, violation of a woman’s personal space, and violence against women (Concannon). Barbara Haskell and John Handardt’s book, Yoko Ono: Objects and Arias, describe “Cut Piece” as a feminist art. They explain that she is commenting on the subordination and victimization of women, and that the piece is powerful because of the ambiguity of it (Concannon). The piece is ambiguous in that Ono does not explain why she is doing this, or what point she is trying to make during the process of the piece. She does not talk during the piece at all. She does her best to keep a blank face and be motionless, creating an ambiguous canvas for her art to take place on. I would say that this piece is feminist because of the themes presented in it. As previously mentioned, she exposes the subordination and victimization of women. The piece also comments on sexual aggression because it provides visual evidence of people becoming more and more sexually aggressive by cutting more and more of her dress off, escalating until finally her bra is cut off. The themes evident in this piece make it feminist art.
        I was very intrigued by this piece of art. When I began watching the video I was not sure what to expect from the audience when they were encouraged to go up and cut part of Ono’s dress off. I thought most people would be very shy and not cut much of her dress off, which is what happened in the beginning. As the performance progressed, people became more and more sexually aggressive, particularly men. It escalated until finally her dress was in shreds, her bra was cut open, and she was mostly exposed. This is not what I had expected. I was appalled that people would be so sexually aggressive as to cut her bra straps. Sources say that one man even said “Come on, make a piece for Playboy, Richard” (Chladil). I could not believe how sexually aggressive people became. Throughout the whole piece Ono did her best to sit there without any motion or emotion. I was shocked to see how well she responded to a man cutting her bra strap, because I thought that went farther than what the original intent of “Cut Piece” was. Overall I was stunned to see how people could so easily make Ono into a sexual object. I feel that “Cut Piece” is an important piece of art because it exposes the sexual aggression in society, especially towards women.

By: Kate O.

Works Cited

    Chladil, Michael. "Running to Stand Still." : Class 1: Critique of "Cut Piece" by Yoko Ono. 05 Sept. 2007. Web. 13 May 2012. <>.
    Concannon, Kevin. "Yoko Ono's CUT PIECE: From Text to Performance and Back Again." Yoko Ono's CUT PIECE: From Text to Performance and Back Again by Kevin Concannon. Imagine Peace, 22 July 2010. Web. 13 May 2012. <>.
   Frueh, Joanna. “The Body Through Women’s Eyes” in The Power of Feminist Art, p.190-207.
   Nieves, Evelyn. “To Work and Die in Juarez” Mother Jones. May/June 2002. Web. Aug 31st 2011. <>.
   Rich, Adrienne. “Why I Refused the National Medal for the Arts” in Arts of the Possible: Essays in Conversation, p. 98-103.



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  2. Its a well thought out post but I believe the comments regarding the sexual aggression of the audience is just a bit false as that was the intent of Ono, she encouraged the audience to come up and cut off clothing, no matter what item or part of the clothing it was. Sure, no one had to cut it off but the piece would feel incomplete otherwise.