John Lennon was in his mid-twenties and already world-famous as a rock musician when he first encountered the works of a Japanese performance and conceptual artist named Yoko Ono. Among them was a project called Light House, one ofher “instruction paintings” later collected in the volume Grapefruit, which called for a building constructed entirely from prisms of light. Lennon asked if she could build such a structure for him in his garden in Cambridge, England—a whimsical request but one that came to a different kind of fruition three years ago when Ono unveiled the Imagine Peace Tower in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland.
Composed of 15 individual lights that join together to form a single beam shooting 700 feet into the sky, the tower is a memorial to Lennon, who married Ono in 19tk and was gunned down by an assassin in 1980.
On the occasion of what would have been his 70th birthday—October 9th—the Imagine Peace Tower’s lights raked the night sky (and will be lit for several hours each evening until the anniversary of Lennon’s assassination on December 8). In a ceremony in Reykjavik, Ono handed out the Lennon-Ono Peace Awards, grants of $50,000 each, to writers Michael Pollan and Alice Walker and filmmaker Josh Fox, all of whom have in one way or another concerned themselves with the survival of the planet.
Later that evening, the 77-year-old artist performed for an hour and a halfwith the Plastic Ono Band, one of whose members is Sean Lennon, son of Johnand Yoko.
Ono was first approached about doing a memorial in Iceland by curator Gunnar Kvaran at the Venice Biennale in 1990 (her works were part of an exhibition about the Fluxus group from the 1960s). The project languished until it was revived a few years ago at the urging of Hafthor Yngvason, director of the Reykjavik Art Museum. In its final incarnation, the monument was built on VideyIsland, a five-minute boat ride from the capital and a nearly barren outpost on which stands a simple 19th-century Lutheran church.
The Imagine Peace Tower consists of a cylindrical “Wishing Well,” about seven feet high, covered with special slabs of pure white glass onto which are carved Ono’s instruction “imagine peace” in 24 different languages. The tower stands on a platform 55 feet in diameter and faced with three types of native Icelandic stone.
When the beams projected each evening happen to coincide with the Northern Lights, as has occurred on a few occasions, the celestial spectacle becomes an awesome tribute.
Ono has become a frequent visitor to Iceland in recent years and chose the country as the site of a memorial to her husband because of its forward-thinking environmental policies.
“Light is what the world so desperately needs,” she said in aninterview before the ceremony, adding that if John were alive, “he would be livid” about the state of the world today.