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Photo of Yoko Ono. // Photo courtesy of Matthew Placek/Phi Foundation (Montreal).

Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit inspires artists

By Yasmine Elsayed, February 11, 2021—

Despite the name of the panel, “A Panel Discussion on Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit,” this panel not only discussed Grapefruit but it brought many Canadian artists together to share their work and passions through art. It was quite lovely to see the diversity in this panel and difficult to feel excluded as the panelists did their best to include everyone. This panel was made for artists and non-artists alike, to help them either discover their passion for art or help artists grow.  

The moderator, Dave Dyment, started out the panel by discussing Yoko Ono’s book Grapefruit. Dyment is an artist, photographer and filmmaker among other things, and believes that Grapefruit is a legendary book that makes a huge difference in the art community, regardless of its genre. 

The panel consisted of three artists — Billy-Ray Belcourt, Suzette Mayr and Ayumi Goto.

Billy-Ray Belcourt is a poet from the Driftpile Cree nation. He writes and explores all types of topics, however, most of his work revolves around politics, love and queer sexuality. 

Belcourt is quite a fan of Ono’s Grapefruit, so much so that he decided to adapt her style of writing and made it his own. Not only in short poems but in instructions as well. 

Some of Belcourt’s poems, which he read out-loud in the panel, had me in awe. 

My favorite ones were Decolonial Love 1&2, Sadness Piece, Writing Like a Forest 1, Poem of Grief, Healing 1&2, Rural Homosexuality and Poem About Growing Up. Each one of the ones I have listed range from love to grief to happiness to healing. 

Belcourt also had multiple political pieces such as Poem of Historical Justice, Poem to Rewrite the History of North America From the Point of View of the Oppressed and Abolish the Police. These were quite strong pieces that definitely made strong statements. 

Unfortunately, Belcourt did not publish any of these poems in any of his books and stated that he does not know whether he will publish them as they were written quite recently. 

Suzette Mayr unfortunately did not share as much of her work or her opinions. She is a professor who teaches Creative Writing at the University of Calgary. Mayr briefly discussed the main themes of her books, which center the life experiences and struggles of the LGBTQ+ community. She also shared her strategy when it comes to writing the “unwriteable” or how she approaches grief. She claimed that in order to do so, instead of writing a story, she writes a series of “obituaries.”

Very briefly Mayr discussed her most recent book, Monoceros, which is about a boy that was heavily bullied to the point that he committed suicide. His death changes those around him, reveals his boyfriend and explores the question “could this have been stopped?” She described that Monoceros was a real story. 

Finally, Aymui Goto is a Canadian-Japanese performance artist and activist, performing across many countries. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto. 

She was quite lively during the panel and was definitely one of my favorite panelists. 

Goto’s performance consisted of her wearing what seemed to be a silk white dress, a yellowish back drop and her final piece — a grapefruit that was a part of the performance. She called her score “Pieces for Orchestra” and it has nine numbers.

Peel, Peek, Takeoff, Tear, Touch, Rub, Squeeze, Eat, Drink. I know how that sounds — Contemporary artists, man. But, Goto does exactly that, follow her steps or in her case, numbers. Despite the sexual innuendos, her performance stood out because it could actually be interpreted in many ways. 

I came to two conclusions after viewing her performance. One; Goto exploring female sexuality and two; her exploring several emotions. Her motions showed that she could be exploring human emotions — mainly, feelings of being left out or excluded. She played on the concept of if you don’t fit then create a place that fits you. By the end of the piece, Drink, as she was drinking the grapefruit juice, she smiled wide while making eye contact with the viewer. And, no, she didn’t smile seductively, although, I understand why you would think that. Her smile and eye contact showed that she is happy that she had found the place that fits her. 

Goto’s performance was purely psychological, whether it was sexual or an expression of emotions. 

Honestly, I’m glad that this performance was online. It looked messy and I laughed a bit because I was so shocked but somehow also amazed. 

All of the panelists were quite inspiring and passionate about what they do and all the artists gathered because of Grapefruit. If you would like to check it out, this panel has been recorded and posted on the Calgary Contemporary website.

End result: I ended up buying Grapefruit

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