YOKO – WAR IS OVER! EXHIBITION SYDNEY
By RITCHIE YORKE
All photos by Minnie Cherry
She was once famously described by John Lennon as ‘the world’s most famous unknown artist.’
John’s description of Yoko continued: ‘everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does.’
With the arrival of the first extensive survey of her assorted art works, that should no longer be the case. Yoko’s current exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art should change all that lack of awareness.
After Yoko’s preliminary visit to Sydney two years ago, the city has now become the only Australian venue for the first major survey of Yoko Ono’s art works in diverse media.
The official name of the exhibition is War Is Over! (if you want it). It was curated by Rachel Kent, the chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The exhibition’s title emanates from the anti-war phrase – ‘War Is Over If You Want It’ – which John and Yoko unveiled to the world through a campaign of roadside billboards launched in a dozen cities including London, Toronto and New York in 1969.
This writer had the honor of being associated with the War Is Over launch and functioning as the Lennon’s International Peace Envoy from 1969-71. That was several decades back – Yoko will turn 81 years young during this most commendable exhibition in Sydney.
In a special statement, Yoko said: “I am very excited and honoured to have my first solo exhibition in Sydney. It is an incredible new show I’ve developed just for you. There are many fantastic installations and participation works from different times. Think peace, act peace, spread peace Sydney. I love you.”
Curator Rachel Kent noted: “The exhibition reaffirms Ono’s firm belief in the power of human agency – specifically, people’s ability to dream of and work towards a better future together.”
Beatles’ enthusiasts will readily recall that Yoko first attracted John at one of her art exhibitions in a London Gallery. ‘YES” was the message John found when he climbed a ladder to read a small word on the ceiling. Yoko and John went on to create many art happenings together (the most famous being the Bed In for Peace events in Amsterdam and Montreal in 1969) and were at the forefront of performance art for their time.
Aside from Yoko’s usual attacks against universal injustice and the military status quo, she has taken up the cudgel against the rapidly spreading practise of fracking (the extraction of gas from coal seams deep within the earth).
A series of screenings curated by Yoko – Artists Against Fracking – will took place in January. “Anything to lead us to better understanding of where we are going and why is helpful to us as the human race,” Yoko notes.
In private conversations, Yoko was particularly passionate about the evils of fracking.
In September 2013, during a concert, Yoko informed her audience that “heaven on earth” would arrive in 2050. Expounding on that declaration the next day, she noted: “Everybody is stuck in this idea that there’s going to be a Doomsday. And it’s so silly. ‘Doomsday’ sounds like a very comfortable thing to happen. We all die together. Oh great! But I have seen things in Hiroshima and it doesn’t happen that way.
“You don’t just die right away, there’s this very slow death and each one is different. You are not all together. All of us will be very hungry because everything will be destroyed. Starvation and illness, these are the things that are going to happen. Do you want to choose that, or do you want to make sure that this planet is going to be better and that it has a future?”
She feels that personal activism is crucial to the scenario. “Now we can do it because, I see that when John and I stood up to the baddies,” she laughs, “very few people were activists. Now I think maybe 90% of the world is activist. If you are not an activist you’d be considered a nerd maybe (she laughs).”
A highlight of Yoko’s trip Down Under to open the War Is Over! Exhibition was her sold out appearance at the Sydney Opera House’s Ideas at the House where she discussed many aspects of her life and art in a conversation with MCA Chief Curator, Rachel Kent.
She also performed her recent number one dance floor hit, ‘Bad Dancer’, to the delight of the enraptured audience. And slithered back into a bag for good measure.
Yoko remains confident that – despite the abundant doom and gloom which clouds our current perspectives – world peace will someday be achieved because people are infinitely adaptable.
“I’m sure we’ll keep changing and one day, very quickly, we’ll have heaven on earth and we will create that. Especially people in Australia. It’s easier for them to do that.”
But she insists that there is no room for negativism in her vision of a brave new world. “I am a pragmatist,” she proclaimed. “Therefore I believe that to create the next world together, we must have positive thinking. We have no more luxury to indulge in negative thinking.”
(Yoko’s War Is Over! exhibition will continue at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney until February 23 2014. For more details, visit <www/mca.com.au>)