It was a cold and crunchy afternoon as we drove to the Emily Davis Gallery at the University of Akron's Myers School of Art. The undisturbed snow embracing the freeway's banks reflected patches of sunlight like prisms. It was a serene and contemplative trek on an otherwise bleak winter's day.
The past couple of years have been disconcerting, to put it mildly. Turmoil is rampant. The world is freaking out. We could use some universal love, and this is exactly what we hoped to find.
As we entered along the windows leading into the gallery, we were greeted with "Imagine Peace" written in 24 of the world's most popular languages. It's the welcoming siren to Yoko Ono's exhibition of the same name. (The show's original presentation opened at this very gallery in the summer of 2007.) To see Imagine Peace in one's home language is a powerful moment, especially when so far from that home. "We've anecdotally noticed that our international students have had a strong reaction to seeing their home language displayed and that they have taken the time to be really thoughtful about stamping peace at home (wherever that is)," reports Arnold Tunstall, director of University Galleries. "The opportunity to send good wishes to a place you care about seems to have a strong pull for all visitors."
A strong pull, indeed. As we viewed Imagine Peace maps, representing Europe, Ohio, Asia, the United States, Africa and the world, we contemplated the grouping of ink stamps and couldn't help but be moved. To participate is a deliberate action. There were a lot of stamps on North Korea, as well as the Middle East and Washington, D.C. Let's hope the message is felt.
We sat down in the lower gallery to watch the short documentary Passages for Light, which chronicles the Imagine Peace Tower that opened in Reykjavik, Iceland, 10 years ago, and a device called the onochord. We were instructed by the artist to employ the onochord (provided at the gallery), a small flashlight that can be used as a key fob, to signal "I love you." One flash for "I" (i), two flashes for "love" (ii) and three flashes for "you" (iii). This strong conceptual work invites us all to be participants in illuminating love to our neighbors.
In "Wish Trees," we were greeted by two dormant Redbud trees sprouting handwritten tags like leaves. Visitors are invited to write down their own wish for the world and hang it on a branch. Both the wishes and the stamped maps will be sent to Ono's studio in New York at the close of the exhibition. She will then take the wishes up to Reykjavik the next time she lights the Peace Tower and spread the wishes over the globe via the light from the tower.
Also on view is Ono's "Parts of a Light House," which was originally shown in 1966 and at whose debut John Lennon first met the artist. Whatever your negative thoughts vis-à-vis Yoko Ono and John, you need to move past it. Ono is an intellectual and was a major player in the Fluxus experimental art movement, one whose participants were multi-disciplinary and included, but were not limited to, artists, designers, mathematicians and economists. "Parts of a Light House" is something I want to stare at every waking moment. Constructed of glass prisms, plexiglass and light, it is lovely. Per the description: "The light house is a phantom house that is built by sheer light. You set up prisms at a certain time of day, under a certain evening light which goes through the prisms; the light house appears in the middle of the field like an image, except that, with this image, you can actually go inside if you wanted to." I wanted to.
Revisiting an action artwork involving broken ceramic cups to signify the destructive acts of war, "Mend Piece" is yet another interactive element of Imagine Peace. Here the artist invites us to lend a hand in mending two broken ceramic globes (produced by Myers School of Art Ceramics faculty and students) while we "meditate on the physical action of healing and peace within the world."
We were informed that in observing the globes being reconstructed, a woman pulled out a band-aid and placed it on the finished piece (pictured) in an act to further strengthen the world's healing process.
Finally, a setlist of 24 solo and collaborative songs by John and Yoko, as well as Yoko herself with the Plastic Ono Band, can be enjoyed throughout the exhibition via portable headphones.
On the drive back north, it was hard not to imagine peace and to engage others in this poignant exhibition. As the artist states, "A dream we dream alone is just a dream; a dream we dream together is reality."
Collaboration is the key word for 2018.