5 March 2018




When I last visited the grocery store, the customer in front of me was on their phone while being checked out by the cashier. Enthralled by Instagram, it was taking the customer some time to respond to the cashier’s questions. I asked myself, “do I do this?”

Apparently I do, subconsciously. As I reached for my debit card from my wallet phone case, I entered the passcode to turn on my phone – for no reason! I didn’t intend to use it, but it was out of habit.

I realized this society needs to check out of being checked out.

After visiting the Gardiner Museum’s YOKO ONO: THE RIVERBED exhibition, I felt that I got a very much needed checking out, but also reconnection. This Exhibition Review will be different than others, as I cannot begin with the typical expression: I saw this exhibition. Instead, I did this exhibition.

THE RIVERBED is by artist, musician, filmmaker, and peace activist, Yoko Ono. Ono has significantly contributed to the international development of Conceptual art, experimental film, and performance art. THE RIVERBED was first displayed at Galerie Lelong & Co. and Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York City in 2015.

The Gardiner Museum now has the pleasure to offer THE RIVERBED to Toronto until June 3, 2018, included with general admission! This exhibition is a three-part installation that is completely interactive and encourages collaboration between museum visitors. There are three sections: Stone Piece, Line Piece, and Mend Piece. Each section facilitated contemplation and self-reflection, my creativity, and my idea of human connectedness. Even more enjoyable, each section provides opportunities for visitors to shape the installation.

In addition to the interactive nature of the space, the fact that visitors are not permitted to take photos significantly contributed to my experience. Being unhindered by the need to constantly check my phone, as I did in the grocery store, I felt more present and mindful of the activities I was being involved in and of my own participation and actions to contribute to the installation.

Stone Piece is the first installation visitors are presented with and feature river stones, placed in a shape replicating a river. Visitors are encouraged to pick up a stone, sit on the chairs or cushions provided, and reflect, transmitting their negative thoughts into the stone, only to let it go by placing it on top of the other stones. Stone Piece is an introduction to the space that helps put one in the mindset to experience the next two installations.

Stone Piece, Yoko Ono, 2015 / 2018, © Yoko Ono. Photo: Tara Fillion.
My favourite installation is Mend Piece. Here, visitors are invited to sit at tables and connect pieces of ceramic cups and saucers together using string, tape, and glue. This activity was extremely calming for me. There was no pressure to create something that was aesthetically “beautiful” or “significant,” at least to the outside world. Instead, this was a creation of what I felt needed to be mended at that very moment. When you are finished, you place your pieces on the shelves alongside other visitors’ pieces. After making my own Mend Piece and viewing others’, I was reminded of the fragility, but also strength of humans. With a coffee bar located in this space, it creates a great environment for visitors to discuss these thoughts.

Yoko Ono, Mend Piece, 1966 / 2018, © Yoko Ono. Photo: Tara Fillion.
Line Piece is a labyrinth of strings connected between walls by visitors. Visitors can use hammer and nails to secure the strings, create a line of their own, or continue some else’s. There are also low tables with sketchbooks, in which visitors can continue drawing the line left from the previous visitor.

Yoko Ono, Line Piece, 2015 / 2018 © Yoko Ono. Photo: Tara Fillion.

Lastly, I want to point out that I experienced these meaning-making moments in a space with little to no text. The objects that are provided for visitors to contemplate, or to use to create and recreate new objects, as well as the one to two sentences provided by Yoko Ono in each section, creates the ideal environment for visitors to think for themselves, with just enough creative encouragement.

More about the exhibition, and its very exciting related programming, can be found here. I encourage you to visit: put down the phone, come with a friend or alone, and get a well-needed checking out and reminder of human connectedness and fragility, and a well-needed and deserved self-reflection.

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