Long before she ever met John Lennon, Yoko Ono established herself as a significant international avant-garde artist. With John by her side, Yoko’s political performance art found a larger audience to witness the "Bed-In for Peace" and Bagism. Alas, the idealism of the late 1960s that helped foster an environment for that activism faded during the Reagan years and has struggled ever since. Fortunately, the renaissance of activism known as Occupy Wall Street has inspired Ono to reach out and inspire once more. On Saturday, January 14th, Yoko Ono and members of the OWS Arts and Culture and Occupy With Art groups will gather in the now famous Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan to announce a new artwork to promote peace worldwide. Forty-three years after singing “Give Peace a Chance” with her husband John, Yoko Ono is still giving peace a chance, and asking us to join her.
This new project is an extension of Ono’s Wish Trees project, in which she asks people to write their wish for peace on a slip of paper and attach it to a tree she has placed in museums (including the MoMA) or other cultural centers throughout the world. Since beginning the project in 1996, Ono has collected over 1 million wishes from around the world, all of which are stored in the Imagine Peace Tower in Reykjavik, Iceland. “As a child in Japan, I used to go to a temple and write out a wish on a piece of thin paper and tie it around the branch of a tree,” Ono explains on the project’s website. “Trees in temple courtyards were always filled with people’s wish knots, which looked like white flowers blossoming from afar. All My Works are a Form of Wishing."
Just as Occupy Wall Street expanded beyond Zuccotti Park and Wall Street to “occupy” sites across America and the world, Ono’s taking her localized wishing and thinking globally. Whereas Wish Trees originally centered around the specialized trees, this new project can involve any tree. The embodiment of this paradigm shift will be 10,000 postcards (example shown above) distributed for free. Chris Cobb, an Occupy With Art member and an organizer of the Ono project, explained to me via e-mail that “[t]he card is meant to be given away free. So it is a conceptual art gesture as much as a card. In a way the card is not the art so much as the interaction between giver and receiver.” OWS drew its energy from the chain reaction of political action and interaction between individuals coming together for a cause. Ono’s postcards hope to tap into that same energy by making people put their wish for peace on paper and (she hopes) believe that it can come true.
One cynical writer wondered how long before the postcards find their way onto Craigslist. I’m going to keep hope alive and join in the wishing, even if I don’t get a postcard. “You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one,” John Lennon sang in “Imagine.” “I hope some day you'll join us, and the world will be as one.” Yoko Ono’s new vision for Wish Trees calls us all to be dreamers, with no fear that you’ll be the only one.
[Many thanks to Occupy With Art for providing me with the image above.]