At last; the time and space to do my last piece on Yoko's To The Light exhibition. I've been 3 or 4 times now. All pieces but this one was based on the first visit when i could not face down a moster called FEAR in spite of the instruction on the back wall 'Be grand', despite of the fact that I know a secret that would have helped.
In this room Yoko has constructed a maze made out of perspex. I know what awaits me in the metaphorical centre - myself. But that's not what i'm afraid of. I sit on a small white stool or table and watch other people smiling as they go around, listening to the loud thud when they bump into the barriers they cannot see. I sit and wait. Will I go in - can I? No i can't. What am I afraid of? Humiliation at being seen unable to find my way around. No. I've told you I know a secret. The secret of how to find my way around a maze and how to get out again. A young Australian told me the secret and it works. I think my fear is more about being seen at all. I've always had that. I used to wear a hat with a brim that I would pull over my eyes thinking if I can't see anyone then no one can see me. It worked. It mean't I could go to the town centre. It was completely stupid of course because it mean't everyone would see me but it did not impinge on my belief.
I wouldn't mind invisibility. I think, if i didn't talk about it, write about it, I could be a really successful invisible artist. Something as changed within me. Back in the 80's I couldn't put my name to anything. I thought I was the best writer in the world then and my name was Anon. I'd written some great fables as you will well know. Poems too. They all carried my name then.... Anon. Now, i'm Richard Downes and I write for DAO and sometimes I really fret about what i'm going to say and how it will be received. I trust my words. I don't trust how people will read them. This curse of being visible, of having to be heard.... i've cracked some of it but, there is no way i'm going into that maze.
On my last visit I made it. Jean was with me. She was on her first visit. She had no fear about going into the maze. She went in first. I purposely went another way knowing that i was safe with the secret. She looked back and saw me walking away and turned to follow me. I had to turn back and go past her. I could basically run with the secret and Jean would struggle to catch me. This was fun. We were laughing. We got to the centre which is not a centre. Its off to the side; fact fans. I sent Jean in to find herself first. She seemed a little apprehensive about me letting her past. She didn't find herself because of it. I had to take her back in. She found herself. I found myself. My isn't that wonderful. No it isn't but its OK.
We came out. I had to pass a stranger. That was a little harder. There's not a lot of space in here. Tight bends. Not accessible. If you pass someone you have to at least acknowledge them. Say hello or smile. But it was OK. I was still having fun and now I know another secret. Turning on the fun beats fear all the time.
Thanks Yoko for the fun and the inspiration that gave me seven pieces from one exhibition. I really liked almost all of it.
It is a long walk from Tottenham Court Road Tube to the Serpentine Gallery. Made harder by an unusually hot summer's day. I wander whilst I wonder and wonder whilst I wander. Mostly I'm wondering am I going the right way. I've passed the Serpentine before. It's over there somewhere. It does seem a long way and a long time wandering. The new building surrounded by workmen's boundaries confuses further. I plod on wondering why I never depend on maps when I should and why it always comes good in the end.
Somehow I am behind the Serpentine. Yoko's Chess Piece is in front of me. A public installation. An all white board with all white pieces. Children play with it. Obeying the ancient instruction to play with trust and joy. Father watches son carry a king by his sceptre and a queen by her crown, simultaneously removing both from the board. Surely that's not allowed. The remaining white king and queen stand where they started - unmoved; not attacking, nor like the england football team forever in defence, never making moves. In chess white moves first. It is a convention. But which of the 32 whites, which side, and why is the straight, traditional formation being kept.
Indeed, how do you play this game. The board is white. The pieces are not constrained by squares. There is no reason why they should move in the accepted way. How do you enter a contest here? How to compete? Remove the barriers. Change the rules. What happens?
I want this to go even further now. Change the shape of the board. Make it circular. Change the shape of the pieces. Why should this even be chess? Stop this idea of taking. Play the game to mingle. Conjoin indistinct communities. Work the game away from war, battle.
Maybe its no longer about attack, winning, beating. Maybe shapes, shadows, and signs create new trusts, new joys. Look, king to pawn are fundamentally no different. Castles are not neurotic, knights not psychotic, bishops not despotic. Status is gone. Movement is free. This is the nutopian ideal of the chess board. There are no countries, no passports, no flags.
"We announce the birth of a conceptual country, NUTOPIA.
Citizenship of the country can be obtained by declaration of your awareness of NUTOPIA.
NUTOPIA has no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people.
NUTOPIA has no laws other than cosmic.
All people of NUTOPIA are ambassadors of the country.
As two ambassadors of NUTOPIA, we ask for diplomatic immunity and recognition in the United Nations of our country and its people.
Yoko Ono Lennon
John Ono Lennon
One White Street
New York, New York 10013
April 1st 1973"
The national anthem of NUTOPIA has no sound and only lasts 3 seconds. Its flag is white and cannot be seen against a cloudy, cumulus sky. Nutopia like the chess set cannot be invaded, nor beaten, only occupied by you and me. I have spent time in Nutopia. I have built a social model there. I have spent time in Nutopia. I have found rights there. I have spent time in Nutopia, no abuse, no hate crime there. Should you imagine Nutopia on an all white chess board what will you see there?