Recreating a “Cut Piece”

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Art history student Brooke Morgan (CAS ‘12) went on stage at the GSU Conference Auditorium last Wednesday and invited audience members to cut apart her outfit, piece by piece.

The performance was a tribute to artist Yoko Ono’s “Cut Piece” (first performed in 1964). It explores “person-to-person contact,” Morgan said, a theme which has new relevancy in an age of cell phones and social networking. One reviewer described Ono’s work as “a denouement of the reciprocity between exhibitionism and scopic desires, between victim and assailant, between sadist and masochist …the gendered relationship of male and female subjects as objects for each other.”

Morgan began by directing audience members to come up one by one, cut off a piece of her clothing, and bring it back to their seats. Silent and motionless, Morgan sat on the stage as students went up one after another and scissored off pieces of her dress, leggings, and undergarments. The act ran for over an hour, ending by Morgan’s discretion with a cheery bow. Her outfit was left in tatters, but skirted nudity.

“I think it went well… but there’s something to having a younger crowd,” she said after the performance. “No one wanted to make the big cut.”

And it’s true, nobody in the audience dared cut off her bra or underwear as audiences did in the 1960s with Yoko Ono. By contrast, there was an air of unease in the auditorium on Wednesday. Most audience members cut off the innocuous parts of Morgan’s outfit, like the bottom of her dress, and the act was punctuated with increasingly long, nerve-racking stretches of silence.

But perhaps this was commentary in and of itself. “Cut Piece” is a simple and provocative act: the breaking down of clothing. Our clothes are a benign and universal facade, but they’re what distinguish us as civilized beings. Even on the pedestal of performance art, it’s easy to seize up when such presumptions are challenged so forthright.

And for a genre of art that builds in the unpredictable character of the audience, this conservatism is telling. We’re the generation of reality TV and the “like” button. We’re voyeurs — that will do everything in our power to avoid offensiveness. Like many others that night, I took pictures of the whole thing.

About Conor Gillies

Conor is a history and journalism student (CAS/COM '13) from Yarmouth, Maine. He enjoys good films, nonfiction, and the occasional home brew.

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