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March 12, 2018

Yoko Ono, “The Riverbed,” at the Gardiner

I loved Yoko Ono’s “The Riverbed”, which we went to see yesterday at The Gardiner Museum. An exhibit whose first part is “Stone Piece,” an arrangement of river-worn stones which we are invited to pick up, and contemplate, and (for some of them) to discover words written on their bottoms, and then replace the stones in a different arrangement, the exhibit ephemeral and ever-changing, always moving, like a river itself. Cushions around the display invite viewers to sit down and watch the scene, the way we might want to sit by the side of the river, and the effect is similar—relaxing, interesting, and insightful. It’s a scene where adults and children alike are excited to be taking part in the exhibit, to be a part of things, and watching this is interesting as well.

Next we move on to “Mend Piece”, where broken crockery has been placed on the table and we are invited to put the pieces together using tape, and string, and glue. A fascinating process for so many reasons—because the pieces we’re “mending” weren’t necessarily put together in the first place, the idea that to mend is a creative act, to make something too, how mending is restorative and generative at once. About how out of broken things there can be made something new, and strangers sitting together at the table connect as they share materials, and also as they’re served coffee from the coffee stand that is part of the exhibit. When the “mending” is done, the new object is placed on a shelf or hung on the wall, and thereby viewers now have a piece on display at the Gardiner, which is kind of incredible.

Everything is white, and there is so much light, which, when coupled with the creative acts taking place, allows for lots of thinking—but the soundtrack is the racket of nails being driven into a wall. Which was meaningful to me, being required to think over the noise, which is important. The noise too a reminder of work, the necessary parts of building anything. And the work that’s being done is in “Line Piece,” where viewers can hammer a nail into the wall and tie a string from one point on the wall to another. Which has created the most fascinating space, cushions on the floor again where you can look up and think about the web of string above, the web that would have been different if you’d never come, the web that will be something else different tomorrow. And to stand up too, pop my head up through the web and contemplate the networks of string from above… It’s about connection, and shelter, creativity and possibility.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the exhibit. Conceptual art can go all kinds of ways, and making the viewer a participant in the process doesn’t always succeed in being meaningful. But I still remember the story of John Lennon falling for Ono back in the 1960s’ when he went to her exhibit and climbed to the top of a white ladder to see a word through a magnifying glass, and the word he saw was YES. After our experience yesterday at “The Riverbed,” now I see how that could happen.

3 thoughts on “Yoko Ono, “The Riverbed,” at the Gardiner”

  1. Shawna says:

    Right after reading your post I came across this which seemed serendipitous.

    1. Kerry says:

      Yes! At the Gardiner gift shop, they have a kit for this on sale!!

  2. Ann Marie says:

    Love your thoughts on this exhibit, Kerry. Sounds very ‘wabi-sabi’ ( You’ve inspired me to check it out!

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