The Pant Suits Come Off: Yesterday’s Action at Madison Square

by Paddy Johnson on December 20, 2016 Rise Up


10 Women perform a version of Yoko Ono’s “Cut Piece” in Madison Park. Organized by theater directors JoAnne Akalaitis and Ashley Tata. Image: Noah Fischer

It’s hard to imagine a day for worse news than yesterday. Andrey G. Karlov, a Russian ambassador to Turkey was shot dead while speaking at an art opening the Contemporary Arts Center in the Cankaya area of Ankara. In Berlin, an attack by terrorists killed nine after they plowed a truck into a Christmas market. And what many believed to be our last hope to save democracy, the electoral college, let America down: only two Trump electors defected in the electoral college, while four voted against Clinton. (Congress would have voted for Trump even if 37 voters defected, but the symbolism would have been significant.)

On days like this, it can be easy to lose sight of the work that is being done.  Amidst all the set backs, there are people protesting and taking a stand. One such example came yesterday in Madison Square Park, when a small group of 10 women performers stood clustered in the cold wearing pant suits and holding scissors. Organized by theater directors JoAnne Akalaitis and  Ashley Tata, the group invited park visitors and audience members to cut pieces from their suits, drawing from Yoko Ono’s 1965 performance “Cut Piece.” The pieces of fabric, according to Tata, would serve “as a gift or a reminder, a remembrance of recent events and potentially more optimistic actions.”

Layered onto this interpretation, is the meaning of Ono’s original piece, which suggested that viewing without responsibility has the potential to harm. This speaks harshly, to those who chose to cast their vote away or not vote at  all. Additionally, it continues to speak the disturbing undercurrent of violence and misogyny in our culture.


In front of a crowd in Madison Square Park 10 women perform a version of Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece. Organized by theater directors JoAnne Akalaitis and Ashley Tata. Image: Noah Fischer.

In an effort to find out made this particular performance so effective, I spoke to artist Noah Fischer who told me that “this was organized by a group of older feminists but there were so many performers of different ages and ethnicity”. He rightly pointed out that actions often draw the same people from the same demographics. Tata agreed with this, adding, “It’s always beautiful to see a group of women together. It’s a sculptural meditative invitation”

It only took a week to put the piece together, though the concept was hatched much earlier. “The idea came up during the debates,”Akalaitis told me, noting the domineering body language of Trump, through out. “After the election, women were upset and “Cut” came up”.

Choosing the day the Electoral College voted was no accident, though, no one could have predicted the landslide of bad news that befell the day. In a rare moment of optimism throughout yesterday’s terrible news, I was glad to to learn that the viewers of Madison Square Park were attentive and kind. “In our pre-event discussions we were concerned about the climate in America and the contagious violence,” said Akalaitis. “We had scissors and women, so we put together a buddy situation with whistles as a precaution. But the crowd was receptive and we created a safe space with the audience. The only perilous event was the weather.”

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