Thursday, June 22, 2006

Yoko Ono: Mending Peace

In the public mind, it’s still difficult to separate Yoko Ono from the late John Lennon. Their 1969 marriage, their jointly produced happenings and albums, and their highly publicized antiwar protests pitched Ono into a realm of celebrity few conceptual artists ever attain. Pop-culture fame, however, is a mixed blessing. While affording Ono a vast opportunity to disseminate her messages of peace and love, of affirmation and imagination, it also overshadowed, for decades, her accomplishments as an experimental and interdisciplinary artist.

Still, the 2001 touring retrospective, Yes Yoko Ono, did much to reestablish her importance as an avant-gardist whose idea-based works have ranged, since the 1950s, across performance, text, new music, film, installation, sculpture, and participatory events. A little of that practice has landed at Centre A as a way of marking the World Peace Forum 2006.

Subtitled Mending Peace, the show reprises three of Ono’s earlier works. Mend Piece, first staged in 1966 and renamed Mend Peace for the World after the events of 9/11 (which regalvanized Ono’s pacifist commitments), invites visitors to repair broken ceramic objects while sitting at a table in the gallery. Shards of bowls, vases, platters, and teacups have been, and will be, reassembled using glue, transparent tape, thread—and good will. Ono is quoted in the exhibition catalogue as saying: “It’s not mending the cup so much as what you think when you’re mending it.” Her work speaks to our capacity to create metaphor. Rupture and repair, enmity and love, war and peace…

Sky TV, also produced in 1966, consists of a video camera on the roof of the building, with a live feed to a monitor in the gallery. The camera faces straight up, into the boundless sky, so that the visitor sees a vast, blue emptiness. But no, there are grey and white clouds drifting past, and the occasional distant pigeons and gulls. As many critics have noted, Ono has been staring up at the sky since her war-torn childhood, finding in it an analogy for imagination and transcendence, and a place for projecting hope.

The third work staged here, Wish Tree, has been seen throughout the world, in both fleeting and permanent form, since its 1996 inception. At Centre A, it consists of five live trees, each representing a species with a different place of origin, onto whose branches visitors tie small white pieces of paper on which they’ve written their wishes. A reinvention of a Japanese prayer tradition, this work aims to generate what the catalogue calls “a collective wish for peace”. It’s another—very moving—version of Lennon and Ono’s universal anthem. All we are saying, she reminds us, is give peace a chance.


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