Has anyone divided more opinions in the history of music than Yoko Ono? She is either hailed as the mind-altering catalyst to John Lennon’s greatest work or nailed as the primary reason for the death of the greatest band to ever walk the Earth. Like a musical Duchamp she has spent the past 50 years weathering a storm of hate by quietly whispering about peace. The argument itself has become a strange artistic testimony to her work, or her life, indeed if the two could ever be separated. So when Yoko Ono decided to visit Mexico City to open her “new” exhibition “Tierra de Esperanza” (consisting mostly of concept pieces now cracking 50 years of age) the temptation to sneak into the press conference and get a glimpse of the 82 year old icon was too great to resist.
Our only obstacle to gaining entry into the exclusive Art Gallery “press only” opening at the Museum of Memory and Tolerance was a couple of organizers holding the obligatory door list, which – of course – we were not on. It was a situation that could only be handled by an Irish smile, a camera and a three-colored business card.
“We’re a publication from New Zealand – we’re not on the list…” Odette calmly explained, as though our mere geographic isolation was the reason for the oversight. She held up her camera as further evidence of our credentials, to which the senior organizer replied, “Of course – just sign in at the desk on the right.”
Two minutes later and we had gained entry into the press room, as well as a free lunch and press kit containing a souvenir notebook. It was a blag that would have made any self-respecting avant garde artist proud. We were conceptual journalists for the day – observing the observers – covering the coverers. If only we had worn big bags over ourselves (or posed as two virgins) we could have turned the event into the world’s first “journalism for peace” event (a concept too confusing and convoluted even for Yoko Ono).
The demand that there be absolutely no questions about John Lennon was met with a groan of jeers from the room of Mexican media, before the tiny Japanese Artist was lead into the auditorium and shown her seat at center stage. She politely sat and lapped up the praise from the half dozen Museum curators, amid faltering microphones and cut up audio, before being handed the one working microphone for her series of questions regarding the new exhibition.
She spoke in abstract sentences regarding the state of the world and our desensitization to the constant press coverage of death, before moving on to the subject of feminist action. Her answers to the journalist’s direct questions hung in the air with the same gentle obscurity of one of her art installations,
“I’m here to bring peace – a strong thing to say – and it’s not going to happen right away – but we can do it together.”
After a few minutes of her floating dialogue it became apparent that even the curators, leaning forward with painted smiling faces, were unsure as to their own purpose in the press event. Were they hosting a Yoko Ono event – or simply playing a part in another of her conceptual plays,
“What is happening here… is happening to our World… we are part of it!”
Not one of her statements could be defined with any clarity and yet the silence in the room froze even the most hardened journalist waiting to break the “no John Lennon questions” rule,
“This is the time we have to rise! This is not the time we should be sitting! We should sit together! Or rise together! But rising is very, very necessary. In words – so much can be said – but what we need is not just words.”
Her speech straddled between Plato and play dough – simultaneously too simple to disseminate and yet too complex to dissect. Whether the puzzle was intentional or not was almost irrelevant – the fact that so many people in the room cared seemed to give the words meaning.
She went on to explain the purpose of the exhibition:
“Do you know what a land of hope is? It’s a land still not complete – still not perfect – so we hope for it. So we’re going to be hoping together. But not just hoping together – but we create the world. Hope is going to be a word.”
The energy in the room was as strange as the dialogue being translated between question and answer fuzzing out of the journalists headphones – neither seemed to match the other – and yet no one (including us) had the conviction to spoil the bizarre energy. Yoko herself was the event.
“I was always me. And I knew that my power was important. But the way I used my power was maybe slightly different - from the time I was single – to the time I became Yoko Ono Lennon. That’s all.”
The mere mention of the word “Lennon” brought the press conference to an end with a barrage of warm applause. It seemed to be all that the media wanted – her to mention the name. The fact that she waited until the last statement to do so gave that one name more impact that even the word peace itself.
Within 60 seconds of her final word she was gone – stage left to leave the press (and the press imposters) with an exhibition of white ladders, army helmets filled with puzzle pieces and a Perspex labyrinth that lead to an unplugged telephone. In other words we were left with the questions unsaid – and a Yoko Ono experience that, like her, was nothing but original.