Emphasizing the Positive

Ceiling Painting (Yes Painting), Yoko Ono, 1966

 

Yoko Ono‘s activities as an artist span a truly broad variety of genres: art, music, film, and performance. Her work over the past four decades has taken her around the world, in which process she has come to influence a great number of people, starting with John Lennon.

Back in November 1966, she exhibited her Ceiling Painting (or the YES Painting) at the Indica Gallery of London. Viewers had to climb up a white ladder in the center of the room, from where a magnifying glass hanging from the ceiling allowed them to view the word “YES” written in tiny letters on a framed piece of paper affixed to the ceiling. In fact, the work brought Ono and John Lennon together for the first time – some say that she used the work to seduce the already-married Lennon. There is a famous episode in which Lennon, having climbed up the ladder and read what was written, said, “I would have been quite disappointed if it had said ‘NO,’ but was saved by the fact it said ‘YES’,” The two married in 1969.

 

 

The “YES” in the title of the exhibition symbolizes the way that Yoko Ono emphasizes the positive in her works and activities. The following quote illustrates that attitude: “‘YES’ was my work and John encountered it and he went up the stairs and he looked at this word that said ‘Yes.’ At the time I didn’t really think it would be taken so personally. But I don’t really connect it with John as much as I connect it with my view of life. My view of life is the fact that there were many incredible negative elements in my life, and in the world, and because of that I had to conjure up a positive attitude within me in balance to the most chaotic … and I had to balance that by activating the ‘Yes’ element. ‘Yes’ is an expression that I always carried and that I’m carrying.”

 

Yoko Ono with her installation: Sky Ladders in her exhibition Sognare, Museo di Santa Caterina, Treviso, Italy Photo by Stephan Crasneanscki, 2007

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Confidence in the Eyeglass

The bloodstained glasses of John Lennon. Photo tweeted by Yoko Ono on what would have been her 44th wedding anniversary to Lennon, March 21, 2013

 
 

Confidence in the eyeglass, not in the eye;
in the staircase, never in the stair step;
in the wing, not in the bird
and only in you, and only in you, and only in you.

Confidence in wickedness, not in the wicked;
in the glass, but never in the liquor;
in the corpse, not in the man
and only in you, and only in you, and only in you.

Confidence in many, but no longer in one;
in the riverbed, never in the current;
in your pants, not in your legs
and only in you, and only in you, and only in you.

Confidence in the window, not in the door;

Confidence in the eyeglass, not in the eye;
in the staircase, never in the stair step;
in the wing, not in the bird
and only in you, and only in you, and only in you.

Confidence in wickedness, not in the wicked;
in the glass, but never in the liquor;
in the mother, but not in the nine months;
in destiny, not in the gold dice
and only in you, and only in you, and only in you.

César Vallejo

Get Back to The Staircase

Paul McCartney’s illustration. Even though it was John Lennon that had attended Art school, it was usually Paul McCartney who took an interest in the design for the Beatles record covers.

 
 

When the matter came up of the album cover for the first album of the Beatles, their producer George Martin proposed to call the album Off The Beatle Track. Martin was an honorary fellow of the Zoological Society of London, which owns the London Zoo. Martin thought that it might be good publicity for the zoo to have the Beatles pose outside the insect house for the cover photography of the album. Paul McCartney doodled a few sketches for a design with that title. George Martin advised the use of the theatrical photographer Angus McBean, a man he worked with in the past.

However the direction of the zoo turned down Martin’s offer, and instead, Angus McBean was asked to take the distinctive colour photograph of the group looking down over the stairwell inside EMI’s London headquarters in Manchester Square. George Martin clearly liked the title Off The Beatle Track., and when it wasn’t used for the album, he used it for his own LP with Beatles’ covers in 1964.

Martin was to write later: “We rang up the legendary theatre photographer Angus McBean, and bingo, he came round and did it there and then. It was done in an almighty rush, like the music. Thereafter, though, the Beatles’ own creativity came bursting to the fore.”

 
 

 
 

Around the third week of January 1963 a first session took place, at the studio of Angus McBean, in his London house. The Beatles wore their new, mole-colored velveteen performing suits. One of these pictures was used in September 1963 for the cover of the EP The Beatles’ Hits and later, in America, for the Vee Jay album Introducing The Beatles. For this album, however, Vee Jay mirrored the image.

This first photo session was not satisfactory and a second was arranged. McBean agreed to meet them at the EMI house in Manchester Square, London around mid-February 1963. The photographer recalled later: “As I went into the door I was in the staircase well. Someone looked over the banister – I asked if the boys were in the building, and the answer was yes. “Well”, I said, “get them to look over, and I will take them from here.”

I only had my ordinary portrait lens, so to get the picture, I had to lie flat on my back in the entrance. I took some shots and I said, “That’ll do.”

 
 

A number of pictures were taken with the four boys looking down over the railing of the first floor to the entrance of the building

 
 

 
 

But not everybody was convinced about Angus Mc Bean photo session. On March 5th, EMI staff photographer John Dove took publicity pictures of the Beatles in and round the EMI-house. On some of these also Dick James, George Martin and Brian Epstein can be spotted. Afterward he tried to make a suitable picture for the album-cover, with the Beatles fooling around with a parking meter at the nearby Montague Place and jumping of the steps of the EMI studio (later renamed Abbey Road Studios).

At last it was decided that the Angus McBean picture in the staircase was the best option. The cover made the staircase so famous that when, at the end of the ‘90s EMI vacated the premises at Manchester Square and moved to alternative office accommodation, the staircase was dissembled and painstakingly rebuild on the new premises.

 
 

 
 

In 1969, the Beatles asked McBean to recreate this shot. Although the 1969 photograph was originally intended for the then-planned Get Back album, it was not used when that project saw eventual release in 1970 as Let It Be. Instead, the 1969 photograph, along with an unused photograph from the 1963 photo shoot, was used in 1973 for the Beatles’ retrospective albums 1962–1966 and 1967–1970. Another unused photograph from the 1963 photo shoot was used for The Beatles (No. 1) (also released in 1963) and the bootleg Come Together (The Beatles In The ‘90s).

From Babel Tower to Metropolis

Movie Poster

 
 

Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927) features a range of elaborate special effects and set designs, ranging from a huge gothic cathedral to a futuristic cityscape. In an interview,  Lang reported that “the film was born from my first sight of the skyscrapers in New York in October 1924”. He had visited New York for the first time and remarked “I looked into the streets – the glaring lights and the tall buildings – and there I conceived Metropolis.” Describing his first impressions of the city, Lang said that “the buildings seemed to be a vertical sail, scintillating and very light, a luxurious backdrop, suspended in the dark sky to dazzle, distract and hypnotize”. He added “The sight of Neuyork [sic] alone should be enough to turn this beacon of beauty into the center of a film”

The film was written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou, and starred Brigitte Helm, Gustav Fröhlich, Alfred Abel and Rudolf Klein-Rogge. A silent film, it was produced by Erich Pommer in the Babelsberg Studios by Universum Film A.G.. It is regarded as a pioneering work of science fiction genre in movies, being among the first feature length movies of the genre.

Filmstudio Babelsberg or The Babelsberg Film Studio located in Potsdam-Babelsberg outside Berlin, Germany, is the oldest large-scale film studio in the world, producing films since 1912. Today it covers an area of about 25,000 square metres (270,000 sq ft) and thus is Europe’s largest film studio. Hundreds of films, including Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel were filmed there. More recent productions include V for Vendetta (James McTeigue, 2006) , The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass, 2007) , Valkyrie (Bryan Singer, 2008), Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009), Cloud Atlas (The Wachowski brothers and Tom Tykwer, 2012), The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014) and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (Francis Lawrence, 2014).

 
 

 
 

Made in Germany during the Weimar Period, Metropolis is set in a futuristic urban dystopia, and follows the attempts of Freder, the wealthy son of the city’s ruler, and Maria, a poor worker, to overcome the vast gulf separating the classes of their city. Metropolis was filmed in 1925, at a cost of approximately five million Reichsmarks, making it the most expensive film ever released up to that point. The motion picture’s futuristic style is influenced by the work of Futurist Italian architect, Antonio Sant’Elia.

The appearance of the city in Metropolis is strongly informed by the Art Deco movement; however it also incorporates elements from other traditions. Ingeborg Hoesterey described the architecture featured in Metropolis as eclectic, writing how its locales represent both “functionalist modernism [and] art deco” whilst also featuring “the scientist’s archaic little house with its high-powered laboratory, the catacombs [and] the Gothic cathedral”. The film’s use of art deco architecture was highly influential, and has been reported to have contributed to the style’s subsequent popularity in Europe and America.

 
 

The New Tower of Babel, Fredersen’s headquarters in Metropolis

 
 

The Tower of Babel in Maria’s recounting of the fable was modeled after this 1563 painting by Pieter Brueghel

 
 

The film drew heavily on Biblical sources for several of its key set-pieces. During her first talk to the workers, Maria uses the story of the Tower of Babel to highlight the discord between the intellectuals and the workers. Additionally, a delusional Freder imagines the false-Maria as the Whore of Babylon, riding on the back of a many-headed dragon. Also, the name of the Yoshiwara club alludes to the famous red-light district of Tokyo.