New Criticals

Cut Piece does not aim at establishing or restoring community in the way that participatory art as social art has come to be understood so often now. On the contrary, it is about destruction and the audience is invited to perform it by cutting the artist’s clothing piece by piece, one person after another. As Kristine Stiles claims, ‘Cut Piece entailed a disrobing, a denouement of the reciprocity between exhibitions and scopic desires, between victim and assailant, between sadist and masochist: as a heterosexual herself, Ono unveiled the gendered relationship of male and female subjects as objects for each other’ (1998, 278).  Here, relationality is enacted as it takes place through action focused on interpersonal and intimate act in public between individual subjects. At the same time audience is united through the act of violence, and through the shared experience of power position versus that of the artist.

Arguably, the act of cutting to pieces restores the direct relation between the artist and audience members. The act of objectifying the self by the artist and at the same time surrendering control to the audience makes the artist and the work itself completely vulnerable. The work is open to love or to violence and anger. Here participation is dangerous and unpredictable, and as Ono said herself it could be ‘a frightening piece to perform’(1964). It is even more so because of the object given to the audience to perform it with: the scissors. A useful tool but also precarious at it where the offering of the artist has always a chance of turning into sacrifice. Thus cutting here acts in all directions and is not only dividing fabric into pieces and clothes into fragments but it also creates patterns through gestures and rearrangement of space, time and matter. Participation here is instrumental but it is not instrumentalised as a method of enacting and representing the social. In fact it can be argued that people perform here like machines and tools, executing and cutting, whereas scissors and artist clothes become affective and provoke particular emotions and actions.  In Cut Piece the social indeed is part of the project but it is not constructed as its necessary requirement.