"FLY' by Yoko Ono at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, Poland, 9/19 - 10/26/2008
" Warsaw has to be pacified, that is, razed to the ground. "

-- Adolf Hitler, 1944

Yoko Ono's exhibition entitled "FLY" was held in the Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, Poland, from September 19th to October 26th, 2008.

The show's title is simply "FLY". "FLY" is one of Yoko's favorite concepts as well as "IMAGINE", and she has used the word "FLY" in her work for numerous occasions. For instance, Yoko presented the event "FLY" at Naiqua Gallery, Tokyo, Japan, on April 25th, 1964 in which she instructed the participants to "FLY" from the top of the ladder. Yoko also produced the film "FLY" in 1970 in which a "FLY" crawls around a naked woman's body, and the album "FLY" in 1971 which contained the soundtrack of the above film. With the word "FLY", which contains various meanings with the forms of noun, verb or adjective, Yoko implies and suggests to "FLY" mentally or spiritually as far as you can go, like a "FLY", by imagining so.

This was Yoko's second art exhibition in Warsaw, Poland. Yoko's previous show "Endangered Species 2319 - 2322" was also held at the same site, the Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, from June 1st to August 30th, 1993.

As you know, Warsaw, which is the capital of Poland, was completely destroyed and razed by bomb raids of Nazi Germany during World War II. However, after World War II, out of the wreckage and ruins, Warsaw miraculously revived and was restored almost to its original shape as it had been based on the architectural archives. That is the reason why Warsaw is also known as the "phoenix city."

Yoko's work, which has a lot to do with life and rebirth, was presented in this "phoenix city."

"Wish Tree for Warsaw" (1996/2008)

"Wish Tree for Warsaw" was solitarily placed in the huge courtyard of the Centre of Contemporary Art. The sole "Wish Tree for Warsaw" with withering yellow leaves reminds of a view when Warsaw was turned into complete wreckage and no trees were in sight after World War II.

Many white pieces of paper on which people's wishes were written were already hanging from the "Wish Tree for Warsaw" and swaying in the wind. By expressing the wishes from the heart and releasing them to the outside world, the wishes hanging from the tree seemed like they were one step closer to coming true.



At the entrance of the gallery, a huge white panel had been installed. On this panel, the show's title "FLY YOKO ONO" was written in bold black letters.

"Museum of Modern (F)art Yoko Ono - one woman show" (1971)

There was a TV set placed on a white pedestal in front of the white panel with the show's title. On this TV, Yoko's short film "Museum of Modern (F)art" (1971) was screened.

The film "Museum of Modern (F)art" documents the reactions of people who visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York, expecting to see a show by Yoko after they read the announcement of the show in the Village Voice in New York. Asked in front of a camera by a hired reporter how they felt about Yoko's show, some people verbalized their dissatisfaction and complained. Since there was no tangible work by Yoko being displayed at all at the museum, they thought they were tricked. However, the show itself was an invitation to the event to search for flies which were supposedly released from the Sculpture Garden of MoMA and flew all over New York City. Therefore, it was physically impossible to conduct this event, but it was conceptually possible to carry it out,

The handbills with the following text were distributed around MoMA to those who came to see Yoko's show, and to passersby:


FLY flies were put in a GEI
LOO glass container the STH
KFO same volume as yoko EMU
RIT 's body the same pe SIC
ALL rfume as the one yo FLY
WOR ko uses was put in LOO
DSA the glass container KFO
REV the container was t RIT
ERB hen placed in the e ALL
SME xact center of the WOR
SSA museum the lid was DSA
GEI opened the flies we REV
STH re released photogr ERB
EMU apher who has been SME
SIC invited over from e SSA
FLY ngland specifically fo GEI
LOO r the task is now g STH
KFO oing around the cit EMU
RIT y to see how far th SIC
ALL e flies flew the fl FLY
WOR ies are distinguish LOO
DSA able by the odour w KFO
REV hich is equivalent RIT
ERB to yokos join us in ALL
SME the search observat WOR
SSA ion & flight 12/71 DSA


The film "Museum of Modern (F)art" ends with the soundtrack of Yoko's piece, "Telephone Piece".

" Hello. This is Yoko. "

-- "Telephone Piece" by Yoko Ono on "FLY" ('71)

"The Talking Sculpture for Warsaw"

Speaking of Yoko's "Telephone Piece," a regular dial-toned telephone in white was hung against the wall. Next to the telephone hung a picture frame, and inside the frame there was a piece of white paper on which the title of this work was handwritten by Yoko herself. It read "The Talking Sculpture for Warsaw y.o. '08".

"The Talking Sculpture for Warsaw", a.k.a., "Telephone Piece" comes alive only when the phone rings, and someone happens to answer it, and starts a conversation. The caller is Yoko herself so that the lucky receiver can actually carry on a live conversation with Yoko. However, the phone only rings randomly, whenever Yoko wants to call.

Through her work, Yoko presents the ordinary stuff we see every day and turns them into her artworks. What she does is changing the values of things. Similar to the idea of "Wish Tree", Yoko turns an ordinary telephone into an art piece by giving it a different perspective.

"Ex It to Warsaw" (1997/2008)

"Ex It" is Yoko's grand installation piece in which one hundred coffins are set up and trees are growing out of holes cut into the tops of each coffin. Although there were only seventy coffins prepared for "Ex It to Warsaw", usually three sizes of coffins - sixty large-sized coffins for men, thirty medium-sized coffins for women, and ten small- sized coffins for children - are prepared for "Ex It".

Before entering the room for "Ex It to Warsaw" through the doorway, one may recognize that a shape of a door with a circle door knob has also been drawn, right next to the opening to the room, on the same wall. This door is drawn in a single black line as if there is another "entrance" on the wall. If you believe or make yourself believe that this "conceptual" or, rather, "con" entrance really exists, you can end up with bumping into the wall, of course. Remember Yoko's instruction piece written in her book, "Grapefruit", as follows:


Hit a wall with your head.

1962 winter "

Once you get yourself into the room, with the sight of tremendous numbers of coffins, you almost feel lost in a tomb. The "Ex It to Warsaw" installation gives the impression that some catastrophe or war broke out, and, as a result, it caused uncountable deaths. All the coffins, which are made out of plywood, look like off-the-shelf coffins, and there is no indication how these people died.

The text written by Yoko which accompanied to "Ex It to Warsaw" says as follows:

" Ex It to Warsaw

Find your tree
Find your family's trees
Find your friend's trees
Find your enemies trees
I love you!

y.o. '08 "

Historically speaking, Warsaw went through so much suffering and hardship during World War II when Nazi Germany demolished Warsaw and the Soviet Army took over the city after the war. Therefore, "Ex it to Warsaw" reminds us of the tragedies happened in Warsaw.

However, the story does not end there with tragedies. The "Ex It" installation tells us that hope is much stronger than death, symbolized by the trees growing out of the coffins. The hope of the dead seems to live on through the trees. And the trees become the foundation to help people left behind rebuild the world. Life goes on.


"MY MOMMY IS BEAUTIFUL" consists of two close-up photographs of a woman's vagina and a breast. For the Warsaw show installation, six huge photographs of a vagina and a breast were posted alternately on the wall.

Some people regard "MY MOMMY IS BEAUTIFUL" as controversial just because it shows parts of a woman's naked body. It's a wonder that our minds have become so perverted that we no longer see a woman's naked body as it is, not as a sexual object. The thing is that each and every one of us was born through a mother's vagina and fed by her breast. It seems what Yoko is telling in this piece is that we all owe our mothers for our lives. Like trees produce the air for us to breathe, the human race could not have survived without women's bodies.

"FLY" (1970/2008)

In the dark room, the film "FLY" (1970/2008) which Yoko produced in 1970 was shown. The film is about the expedition of a fly which crawls around a naked woman's body while she motionlessly lies down like a corpse on a bed. A fly explores every part of the woman's body, namely, foot, vagina, breast, armpit, face, and head. The soundtrack of the film is accompanied with Yoko's groundbreaking vocal which mimics the buzz of a fly.

The fly in this film could be seen as a predator which invades the woman's entire body like a cancer cell. The film also reminds the viewers of the conventional unspoken rule imposed on women by society that they can only survive when they accept a submissive role or just as a sex object. The double standard may arise among viewers by this film. One is that some male viewers might see this film as sexual, by only paying attention to a naked woman's body, not the movement of a fly. The other is that some female viewers might feel resentment when they see this film for the woman's naked body being used like sex object.

The interesting feature of this film for the Warsaw show was how the film was presented. Several screens were aligned on a horizontal line in the dark room wall. And the film "FLY" was projected continuously on each screen, like a split screen, with timed intervals between one another.

In other words, the image of the film "FLY" seen several seconds ago on one screen is projected on the previous screen right next to it, and the image seen several seconds later on one screen is already being projected on the next screen ahead. Therefore, if you focus on the images on all screens, you see the concept of time - past, present, and future - are all entangled together, and it feels like you get yourself trapped in an endless loop or time warp.

"Memory Painting; Blood Object Clock" (1997/2008)

A new piece called "Memory Painting; Blood Object Clock" (1997/2008) by Yoko was displayed in the Warsaw show.

Nine portraits of women, which probably were made in the mid-nineteenth century and somewhere in Europe, are hung with equal distance from one another in a horizontal line on the wall. Some women in these sepia photos look quite young and some middle-aged.

The women in the photos seem to forget how to smile, so somehow they look lonely. The third portrait from the left especially strikes viewer's eyes, because the skin of her face has been grotesquely disfigured probably due to some kind of burn or wound or infection she had to suffer. This portrait also resonates with photos of women's faces we see today through the media - the faces that were bruised and abused by the violence of men.

Furthermore, the frames for the portraits are made out of fine silver mesh. Hence, the mesh which covers the whole portrait gives the impression that the women in the photographs were somehow concealed from the public or were forced to be imprisoned.

In front of these portraits, an old, dark brown, rusty clock is placed on a white pedestal. The clock, which is oozing fresh blood from the top, is stopped right before 7 o'clock.

Yoko's so-called "Blood Object" sculptures were produced in the beginning of the 90's, and they were at first presented for the show "FAMILY ALBUM" at Stiftung Starke, Berlin, Germany, from June 15th to August 30th, 1993. The sculptures are made up with everyday objects such as a mirror, a pair of high-heel shoes, a bat, a blue denim shirt, a table set and so on, and blood was splattered on these objects. Therefore, the sculptures evoke the thought that some kind of violence by using these objects must have happened inside the family setting.

The blood-shedding clock for the Warsaw show brings back the images of a dark and brutal past in Warsaw. The photos of women with vulnerable eyes, which have been juxtaposed with the bloody clock, look helpless and seem to have been unable to do anything but gaze at the violence which happened in front of their eyes.

"Mend Piece for Warsaw" (1966/2008)

Yoko's "Mend Piece" is a "do-it-yourself" piece through which spectators put the broken pieces of a cup back into the original shape or any shape they desire, with glue, threads, or tapes. The key point of this piece is that through the process of putting the pieces of a broken cup back together, you direct your energy for mending the surroundings around you - whether it is a personal relationship or national affairs - at the same time.

At the exhibition hall of "Mend Piece for Warsaw", tables and chairs are provided so that the spectators can engage themselves with the "mending" activities. The tables and chairs were all painted white. Spectators could also add some drawings or writings on the surfaces of the china by using felt pens.

The instruction for this piece was handwritten by Yoko on a white piece of paper and it was hung with a white frame on the wall. The instruction for "Mend Piece for Warsaw" said as follows:

" Mend Piece for Warsaw

Mend carefully.
While you mend
think of
mending the world.
I love you!

y.o. '08 "

After spectators mended broken cups and saucers, they could leave their proud results on the stand prepared alongside the wall. Hundreds of "mended" pieces of china have already been placed on the stand, and lots of pieces of china were hanging from the stand with threads.

In order to achieve a big goal such as world peace, we tend to think that a huge power and sacrifice are required. However, before dealing with a big project like healing the world, "Mend Piece for Warsaw" reminds us to start off with what we have in our hands. Even if what we have in our hands looks very small, like a piece of china.

"My Mommy Is Beautiful for Warsaw" (1970/2008)

Another "do-it-yourself" piece at this show is Yoko's "My Mommy Is Beautiful for Warsaw" (1970/2008).

Yoko has invented many "do-it-yourself" pieces since the 60's, i.e., "Circle Event" / "Hole Event" (1965) in which Yoko asked the viewers to draw or drill hole on the paper, or "Add Color painting" (1966) to add a color on a white canvas, and many more.

"My Mommy Is Beautiful for Warsaw" is on its extension, and it is a collaborative work between the artist and the audience, in a way. On a huge board or wall which was prepared for this work, audience members are invited to write their own messages or thoughts about their mothers.

Yoko's instruction for this work has been also written on the wall as follows:

" My Mommy Is beautiful
for Warsaw

Mommy, I'm sorry.
You have suffered silently

your life, you tears
and your laughter
have now become a memory.

This is a tribute to you -
all mothers of Warsaw.
from each of your children

We love you!

y.o. '08 "

On the wall for "My Mother Is Beautiful for Warsaw", anyone could write or draw anything related to their mothers with pens prepared for this event. As a matter of fact, thousands of warm messages addressed to mothers have already been written. As a whole, it looks like a beautiful energy coming off from the wall. This is definitely the beauty of graffiti art.

One of the common themes of Yoko's work is "together-ness." Yoko seems to find it more precious and valuable to discover common-ness among us, instead of counting our differences or individuality. Because each of us is already quite different from the other. By finding our common ground or conducting the same event together, we can be unified. This is similar to the idea that world peace can be achieved by working together, not with the power of only one hero. In the case of "My Mother Is Beautiful for Warsaw", instead of just showing her work, Yoko seems to have wanted us to collaborate with others, by sharing our love and thoughts for our mothers. Even though one may have some resentment or grudge against mothers, let's face it, none of us could exist on Earth now without mothers who gave us our lives.

"The Blue Room Event 1966 - 2008"

Completely opposite from the above two works, "Mend Piece for Warsaw" and "My Mommy Is Beautiful for Warsaw", Yoko's "The Blue Room Event 1966 - 2008" guides a quiet event in the viewer's mind.

"The Blue Room Event" consists of fifteen short texts. These poetic texts, similar to her instruction pieces written in her book, "Grapefruit", encourage the power of the viewer's imagination to the fullest, and by following the texts, it is possible to create a different dimension of the world in the viewer's mind. The texts described below are handwritten by Yoko in small letters all over the place, such as on the walls, the ceiling, and the floor.

" This room is bright blue. "

" This room glows in the dark while we asleep. "

" This room slowly evaporates every day. "

" This room moves at the same speed as the clouds. "

" Find other rooms which exist in this space. "

" This room gets as wide as the ocean at the other end. "

" This room gets very narrow like a point at the other end. "

" This window is 2000 ft.long. "

" This window is 2000 ft.wide. "

" Many rooms, many dreams, many countries in the same space..... "

" This line is a part of a very large circle. "

" This is the ceiling. "

" This is the floor. "

" Stay until the room is blue. "

" This is not here. "

Contrary to the impression that the viewer might receive by reading these texts, they remind me of a situation where people who were forcefully imprisoned wrote their words on a wall by engraving or using their own blood. It calls to my mind Yoko's circumstances when she conceived the idea of "Blue Room Event". My assumption is that at that time as a "starving artist," Yoko probably did not have lots of money to buy art materials like canvas. Therefore, Yoko probably came up with the idea to write these texts directly on her surroundings. "The Blue Room Event" also shows viewers how far they can expand their minds "as wide as the ocean", even if viewers might be physically small beings, like a "FLY".

"Wish Tree for Warsaw" (1996/2008)

Like the sole "Wish Tree for Warsaw" which was placed at the outside of the courtyard of the Centre for Contemporary Art, there was another "Wish Tree for Warsaw" placed inside.

Yoko's handwritten instruction for the "Wish Tree" is written on a piece of paper and has been framed and hung on the wall:

" Wish Tree for Warsaw

write your wish.
hang it on the tree.

y.o. '08 "

"Wish Tree for Warsaw" was covered with white wish tags so that the original shape of the tree was no longer distinguishable. It was as if to say, like one tree can hold thousands of wishes, we can carry thousands of wishes and dreams in our minds all the time.

The history of Warsaw which represents death and rebirth of mankind is the history of all of us. No matter how the technology of massacre develops, hope can never be killed. Yoko Ono's show "FLY" presented our strong resistance to suppression, hope beyond desperation, and the re-awareness of our lives which became possible thanks to the sacrifice by women, our mothers.

" In dream you can fly forever and never miss a turn
In dream you can spread your wings and know where to turn "

-- "DREAM LOVE" by Yoko Ono on the album, "It's Alright (I See Rainbows)" ('82)

Mikihiko Hori
152 photos · 632 views