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Collaborations: Social Utopias | Yoko Ono

mumok insider

As part of the current exhibition Collaborations, we present selected works over the summer. After the couple as the smallest collaborative unit and the group for example in the form of artist associations, we now focus on social utopias. Under this headline, we look at works that deal with or provoke exemplary forms of the communal, exploring the emancipatory potential of art.

Yoko Ono
White Chess Set, 1966

Apart from all of the pieces being white, the game board in Yoko Ono’s White Chess Set could easily be mistaken for a so-called “king-and-pawn endgame”—a topic on which Marcel Duchamp once authored a treatise.(1) Originally, however, the White Chess Set had been complete. Regardless, Ono had been trying to facilitate an experience of peaceful conciliation—contrary to the core principles of chess, according to which the superior player invariably strives to avoid a stalemate and instead to systematically annihilate the opponent’s configuration. The conditions for a peaceful resolution would be first, attempted conformity with the rules of the game, and second, limited memory capacity (obviously, uniformly white pieces could never confuse professional players). Thus, the dramaturgy of a White Chess Set game might run from an initially orderly offensive to comical chaos to hopeless confusion. Finally, exasperation would cathartically result in a reinterpretation of the game’s core principles in favor of amicable peace. An exhausting but therefore all the more strongly formative, positive experience of a potentially transformative Beuysian social plasticity.

Patrick Puls

(1)  Marcel Duchamp and Vitali Halberstadt, Opposition et Cases Conjuguées sont réconciliées par Duchamp & Halberstadt / Opposition und Schwesterfelder sind durch Duchamp & Halberstadt versöhnt / Opposition and Sister Squares are reconciled by Duchamp & Halberstadt (Paris/Brussels: L’Échiquier, 1932).


The texts published in this series were written for the catalogue Collaborations. Find the catalogue here.