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EL

Elizabeth Lindau

Elizabeth Lindau is a Ph.D. candidate in Critical and Comparative Studies in Music at the University of Virginia. Her dissertation, “Art is Dead. Long Live Rock!” explores rock’s revitalization of avant-gardism. She has presented at meetings of the IASPM-U.S., the Society for American Music, and the Modernist Studies Association.

 

Abstract:

"'Mother Superior': Maternity as Performance Art in the Work of Yoko Ono"

Yoko Ono’s performance artwork “City Piece” (1961) consists of the singe sentence, “Walk all over the city with an empty baby carriage.” This brief, whimsical direction is characteristic of her “instruction pieces,” which frequently tell their performers to execute a simple action, thereby framing everyday gestures as artworks. Many images from the instruction pieces recur in Ono’s experimental rock releases of the early 1970s. On the page, “City Piece” seems like a humorous prank. But the text takes on a darker tone when delivered through Ono’s haunting extended vocalizations in “Greenfield Morning I Pushed a Baby Carriage All Over the City” from Yoko Ono / Plastic Ono Band (1970). The image of a woman (a mother?) wandering the city with a childless carriage evokes Ono’s tragic history of miscarriages, abortions, and estrangement from her daughter Kyoko.

My presentation traces depictions of motherhood in Ono’s instruction pieces and experimental rock releases. Like “City Piece” and “Greenfield,” some works contain heartrending portrayals of absent children (Life with the Lions [1969]). Others present motherhood as the ultimate act of artistic creativity and power (“Touch Poem” [1963]). I contextualize these works with contemporary feminist writings on motherhood and Ono’s own contradictory interview statements about gender roles and “womb envy” from the period of her marriage to John Lennon. Julia Kristeva has written that “real female innovation . . . will only come about when maternity, female creation and the link between them are better understood.” Ono’s work has the potential to illuminate this link.