June 5, 2012

Peace & Love. Yoko Ono's Imagine Peace Tower at Viđey, Iceland

Yoko Ono, Imagine Peace Tower, 2007

I am the proud owner of a Yoko Ono art piece. I acquired the piece at the Venice Biennale 2009 where Yoko Ono was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. At the Biennale opening weekend she did a surprise performance in which she tried to smash an amazingly invincible and yet very ordinary-looking chair. Also the piece that is in my possession, was the result of destruction. Indeed, it is literally a “piece.” When most of the audience had already left the venue, Yoko Ono suddenly remembered something. She opened a bag with pieces of what had been a huge clay vase and gave them to those who were still there. In 10 years these pieces will be brought back together and made into a whole again. So I treasure this piece of clay, wrapping it up carefully when moving, following Yoko Ono closely on facebook to keep up to date, and waiting patiently for 2019. I like time-based art, and it is good to have perspectives in life.

Today I took the ferry to Viđey to see Yoko Ono's Imagine Peace Tower. Viđey is an island near the city center of Reykjavik. With the ferry it takes only two minutes to get there. The small island was deserted by its last inhabitants in 1947. Yet it has a vivid cultural history. On the island you can find the Viđey House, the first stone building in Iceland, constructed in 1752-5. Archeological research has provided evidence of settlement as early as the 10th century. In 1225 a monastery was founded on Viđey as a center of culture and education. Culture revived at the end of the 18th century when Ólafur Stephensen, the first Icelander to serve as a Governor, moved to the island. Nowadays once more people visit Viđey to experience culture. Not only Yoko Ono's Imagine Peace Tower is to be seen. In 1990 the American minimalist artist Richard Serra installed Áfangar (Stages). The art work comprises nine pairs of columns out of the volcanic stone basalt, placed at the same elevation in the periphery of the western part of the island.

For me, it was the second time that I came to see art on a desolated island. The first time was at the Setouchi International Art Festival in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan. This festival aims to bring back vitality to the islands, showing art with respect to the environment, culture, history and lifestyles. Besides the breathtaking viewing experiences of art in the most beautiful natural settings, there are, nevertheless, also the moments of stress, wandering alone in the hills, wondering if one got off track and when did the last ferry leave again?

Richard Serra, Áfangar, 1990

Viđey is too small to lose track. People go to Viđey for various reasons: horse riding, taking a walk, looking for birds and their eggs in the breeding period. The old Viđey House has a nice café terrace. Regarding coffee Islanders follow the American way and do even better: the refill is served together with your first cup of coffee in a huge pot. That way you are allowed to stay for hours, admiring the Reykjavik horizon across the water while sipping your drink. Yoko Ono's Imagine Peace Tower is on a 5 minutes walk from the café. It's located at the water and equally directed towards Reykjavik. The Tower is inspired by a 1965 conceptual art work of Yoko Ono, entitled Light House: “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 want to. The light house may not emerge every day, just as the sun doesn't shine every day.” The Imagine Peace Tower, inaugurated in 2007, is constructed in the form of a wishing well, on which the words “Imagine Peace” are inscribed in 24 languages. The Tower does not intend to be a Tower of Babel. The wishing well is kept rather modest and surrounded by native Icelandic stones in reddish ochre, light grey and bluish grey. The tall and strong tower of light only emerges out of the well at certain times of the year. When the tower is lit, individual lights join to form a single beam from October 9 (John Lennon's birthday, to whom the Tower was dedicated) to December 8 (the day of his death). It is also lit from the winter solstice to New Year's Day and during the first week of spring.

Coffee with refill at Videy House

When taking the ferry to Viđey no music was played on the boat. On the way back, however, they turned on John Lennon's songs Imagine and Woman. I thought that was a great decision. The exciting anticipation of approaching Viđey did not need musical support. Yet returning to Reykjavik with the eyes tired of the Nordic light, the body caffeinated by the overdosis at Viđey House, the John Lennon songs – both soft and strong, invigorating and tranquilizing – came right on time to restore the balance. I also noticed that the boat crew was young of age. Handling the electronic paying device were two kids, not even teenagers it seemed to me, who did, however, an excellent job and spoke English well. During the summer months Iceland rejuvenates. While adults leave their jobs for a long vacation – which they need, since Icelanders work extremely long hours – young people take over. Back in Reykjavik on my way home I biked past the Höfđi-House where in 1986 the famous summit took place. It was the summit meeting during which Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev almost agreed on the elimination of all nuclear weapons, on this island where the American and Eurasian plates separate. Borders and enemies started to shift in 1986. Did neo-capitalism start in Iceland? Wolfgang Müller pops the question in an upcoming interview with activist and member of parliament Brigitta Jónsdóttir in Junge Welt.

You can send your wishes to Imagine Peace Tower on imaginepeacetower.com

Höfdi House in Reykjavik

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