By Jose Diaz
Peace activist and multimedia artist Yoko Ono produced a series of billboards with the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery at FSW as part of her ‘Imagine Peace’ project over the past five years.
Ono is best known for her political art and activism, as well as her marriage and partnership with John Lennon.
“Her work is so conceptual that it plays well in functioning with the public realm,” said Jade Dellinger, curator for the Rauschenberg Gallery and director of exhibitions and collections at FSW. “There is something about her work that functions incredibly well and it’s so concise and so poetic that it works really well in the realm of advertising.”
These billboards spring up once every couple years along U.S. 41.
In 2014, Ono commissioned the Gallery to produce an ‘Imagine Peace’ billboard. The two parties collaborated again in 2017, producing an ‘I Love You Earth’ billboard, and another earlier this year reading, ‘Peace is Power’.
“She sees those works as a public art project,” said Dellinger. “Her engagement with social media, her engagement with printed and or otherwise advertising space is always the same for her as having an exhibition.”
This year’s ‘Peace is Power’ billboard ran for about ten weeks. It was viewed about one million times on the corner of U.S. 41 and Palm Drive, directly above a Cricket store and preschool.
“It seems like her biggest interest and concern is how much exposure this will get in the public realm, so for her it’s how big of an audience she can generate through this and how many people will be touched and moved by it,” said Dellinger.
The working relationship between Dellinger and Ono began with contributions to an exhibit Dellinger made at the Museum of Art in Tampa. Dellinger replicated John Cage’s “33 1/3” in 2012. Visitors played around 200 different records simultaneously, donated by several artists, including Ono.
“As an artist, she was someone that I definitely was interested in continuing [to] both further the relationship and work with, in some capacity,” said Dellinger.
He brought the collaboration to the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery in 2012. In 2014, Ono continued the partnership with multiple shows, including her ‘Imagine Peace’ works.
“[The exhibit] had world maps and people could use rubber stamps and stamp ‘Imagine Peace’ on places,” said Dellinger. “You would see the Middle East really heavily inked with people coming and finding war zones and then finding places, [in] their home countries or within this community, where they felt like peace was something we should be propagating.”
The ‘Imagine Peace’ billboard wasn’t advertising for the gallery. It was, and continues to be, a separate project aimed at getting the message of world peace to all audiences.
“[It’s] important to note that what happens with Yoko, in my experience with her, she has picked the billboards with the most views.”
She took the viewer interaction of her stamps at the Rauschenberg Gallery to New York City’s Museum of Modern Art in 2015 with her exhibition, ‘Yoko Ono: One Woman Show’. She took out a full page ad in the New York Times with a blank map of the world. Readers were asked to color the places on Earth that they felt needed peace. They sent them to the MoMA, where the colored pages were rotated in the exhibition.
“What we have done is one small aspect of having her contribute something that becomes uniquely ours, but at the same time is part of a larger project,” Dellinger responded. “It’s about encouraging non-violent resistance or the idea that peace isn’t a passive thing.”
Like the billboards displayed across Fort Myers, Ono continues to engage people in her activist theme. The people of Fort Myers can get the feeling of Ono’s highly respected art on the way to work, school, or lunch, without having to travel all the way to New York.
On Oct. 21, the MoMA opened its doors after a $450 million renovation, with Ono as one of six artists commissioned to do a site-specific piece in its public spaces. The work, titled ‘Peace is Power’, covered the walls and ceiling in her blue-sky aesthetic, with the title appeared across the gallery’s windows in 24 languages.
“I do think there’s been a good bit that has been unexplored about her use of the phrase,” said Dellinger.