Play It By Trust / White Chess Set
by Yoko Ono
Indica Gallery 1966
PLAY IT BY TRUST aka WHITE CHESS SET (1966)
Play it for as long as you can remember
who is your opponent and
who is your own self.
Play It By Trust presents an all-white chessboard with all-white pieces, and alludes to the ideal of chess championed by Marcel Duchamp as "the landscape of the soul." Ono's game demands the ultimate abstraction by leaving all but the first few moves to be played entirely in the mind. With minimal and conceptual means so typical of her art, she reduces the game to its fundamental structure-an opposition defined by black versus white-to provoke a sage contemplation: How to proceed when the opponent is indistinguishable from oneself?
YO: When I created Play It By Trust I wasn’t thinking about Duchamp at all. Many artists have worked with chess, but they usually worked with the decorative aspect of the chess pieces. I wanted to create a new chess game, making a fundamental rather than decorative change. The white chess set is a sort of life situation. Life is not all black and white, you don't know what is yours and what is theirs. You have to convince people what is yours. In the chess situation it is simple if you are black then black is yours. But this is like a life situation, where you have to play it by convincing each other.
People think that I'm doing something shocking and ask me if I'm trying to shock people. The most shocking thing to me is that people have war, fight with each other and moreover take it for granted. The kind of thing I'm doing is almost too simple. I'm not interested in being unique or different. Everyone is different. No two persons have the same mouth shape for example, and so without making any effort we're all different. The problem is not how to become different or unique, but how to share an experience, how to be the same almost, how to communicate.
The concept is my work. In the art world, work is shown in a museum and a lot of people or a few people will see it, then if it’s bought by someone, that’s the end of it, or it comes back every once in a while. So I like the idea that Play It By Trust is repeated in different places, because the environment makes a big difference to the piece. Again, it’s the concept that is the work.