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Before the opening of Yoko Ono‘s major solo retrospective at the Serpentine this week, she does something unusual: she summons another artist, who on the face of it has nothing to do with her show, to come and join her. But then nothing about Yoko Ono is usual. And when she explains she would like to have Sam Taylor-Wood by her side, you don’t question it. You wait to see what will happen. …
I am aware, too, of a deeper overlap in the lives of the two women. They are survivors. Somehow, Yoko has lived through Lennon’s assassination (on 8 December 1980). Sam has coped with cancer (colonic and breast). Each woman has experienced painful separation. Forty-five-year-old Sam’s father then mother left her when she was a child. Yoko’s daughter Kyoko was abducted by her second husband, American art promoter Tony Cox, when she was eight and Yoko did not see her again until Kyoko was 31. Yoko also had to weather the disapproval of conservative, aristocratic parents when she first got together with Lennon. They put out a press release saying: “We are not proud of Yoko Ono.” On a more trivial level, there is the older woman tag they have had to live with – Yoko was seven years older than John; Sam Taylor-Wood is more than twice the age of 22-year-old Aaron Johnson, who played John Lennon in her film and is father to two of Sam’s four daughters. There is going to be so much to talk about.
But the conversation begins with a present Sam has brought for Yoko, wrapped in bright tissue paper: a Japanese tea cup and “salty caramel” chocolates from Cocomaya in Bayswater. Sam has persuaded the shop to sell her the cup that was not for sale. How did she pull that off? “I can be persuasive,” she says, and one sees this is true. “I love chocolate,” exults Yoko. The teacup, Sam explains, reminds her of the last time they saw each other at Yoko’s home, in New York, overlooking Central Park. Yoko pours tea into her cup (“I like strong green tea”) and I ask how they first met and we begin.