Fifty years since she and John Lennon got between the sheets, Yoko Ono has created another artwork for peace: 4,000 bells to wake up Manchester
John Lennon once called Imagine an ad campaign for peace. Sadly, it wasnt a very successful campaign; war has remained incomprehensibly popular even as the song itself has become ubiquitous it topped a 1999 poll to find Britains favourite song lyric. Written as the Vietnam war raged, Imagine now seems clearly influenced by Lennons wife, Yoko Ono, and her 1964 book Grapefruit, a collection of instructions that stand in for physical artworks. Imagine the clouds dripping. Dig a hole in your garden to put them in, run the familiar-sounding instructions for Cloud Piece.
Ono wouldnt be given a songwriting credit on Imagine until 2017, but by 1971 she had already become the most significant artistic influence on Lennon since Chuck Berry. For decades, Ono was vilified by rubber-necking journalists and bitter Beatles fans alike, and her work encompassing some of the most provocative and original feminist art of the era was largely ignored. (Lennon once called her the worlds most famous unknown artist.) But at the turn of the millennium, the Japanese conceptualist finally began to be recognised as a major artist, with international retrospectives and even a reunion of the Plastic Ono Band, her caterwauling avant-rock ensemble, whose albums repelled 70s critics but inspired a generation of punks such as Sonic Youth.
The worlds perception of her may have changed, but today the famously dogged Ono is still banging the same drum or, more accurately, ringing the same bell. In her latest artwork, she is enlisting thousands of ordinary folk to ring in this years Manchester international festival with Bells for Peace, a mass participatory artwork that returns to her most enduring theme.
At 6pm on Thursday, Manchesters Cathedral Gardens will resound with the peals of 4,000 ceramic bells, handmade and engraved for the occasion, along with the mightier clangs of a huge Buddhist bell and antique church bells. Those will be harmoniously tuned, but the festival is also encouraging the public to bring along their own bells: the result, you imagine, will be a kind of joyful discord. (As well as being free and open to the public, the event will also be livestreamed through the MIF website.)
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