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More Yoko No. 4 - Votive Offering

I have an instinctive love and understanding of wish trees. I am drawn to them. They make me think.

According to my old mate Wiki; “A wish tree is an individual tree, usually distinguished by species, position or appearance, which is used as an object of wishes and offerings. Such trees are identified as possessing a special religious or spiritual value. By tradition, believers make votive offerings in order to gain from that nature spirit, saint or goddess fulfillment of a wish”.

One of the most glamourous wish trees, the only one I wished on, stood in Waterlow Park, Highgate. It was distinguished by copper tags containing wishes that the sun reflected into the park. I guess the copper made it art.

In the health centre where I work the local bereavement counseling service installs a xmas tree every year  and provides tags for anyone who wishes to remember someone who has passed on. I have used that tree to remember family, friends and people that I never knew including last year, 3 musicians. I never knew Was I wishing though and would I call it art.

As a sometime self advocacy facilitator I have worked with groups who have wanted wish trees. These have happened in day centres with art classes and trees but no one, no member of staff, ever thought to follow up on the wish for a wish tree. Strikes me these would be good for person centred planning exercises. But who cares if people in the institution wish or not.

Every now and then I take a trip to Avebury and Glastonbury. I have an interest in paganism but do not define as a pagan as according to the Pagan Federation I need to accept a divinity in my life and cannot do this. There are trees in these places, my favourite one being at Swallowhead Spring. I have seen the most amazing, thoughtful, votive offerings there. I never knew they held wishes. And some of them where Art. I must ask the editor to make a gallery of my photos.

Yoko has installed a number of wish trees at the entrance of the Serpentine Gallery. I watched people of all ages participating in the process, writing down their wishes in their own languages or with pictures. I read the tags that I could read. Many pursue the Yoko doctrine. Peace, Love, Joy, appear many times.

Other genuine wishes for good grades, holidays, birthdays, sunshine, self centred wishes maybe; but not predominating. Within all this goodness, an adolescent tells everyone, his favourite out of all the wishes is; “I wish this gallery exhibited real art not this rubbish”. Well suck it and see sucker because in making that wish you became involved in art. You joined the process, you followed the instruction, you interacted with the sculpture, you joined the performance, you were not embarrassed to do it and because you did Yoko will help your wish live on.

She will collect your tag, she will install it somewhere else. You may have been cynical but appreciate what happened, appreciate that you, me, and everyone else can join in the instruction to keep on wishing and maybe we could make this our art.

To find out more.

Also, what wish will you make here. 

Posted by Rich Downes, 28 June 2012

Last modified by Rich Downes, 8 July 2012

More Yoko No 3 - Move It

It is a long walk from Tottenham Court Road Tube to the Serpentine Gallery. Made harder by an unusually hot summer's day. I wander whilst I wonder and wonder whilst I wander. Mostly I'm wondering am I going the right way. I've passed the Serpentine before. It's over there somewhere. It does seem a long way and a long time wandering. The new building surrounded by workmen's boundaries confuses further. I plod on wondering why I never depend on maps when I should and why it always comes good in the end.


Somehow I am behind the Serpentine. Yoko's Chess Piece is in front of me.  A public installation. An all white board with all white pieces. Children play with it. Obeying the ancient instruction to play with trust and joy. Father watches son carry a king by his sceptre and a queen by her crown, simultaneously removing both from the board. Surely that's not allowed. The remaining white king and queen stand where they started - unmoved; not attacking, nor like the england football team forever in defence, never making moves. In chess white moves first. It is a convention. But which of the 32 whites, which side, and why is the straight, traditional formation being kept.


Indeed, how do you play this game. The board is white. The pieces are not constrained by squares. There is no reason why they should move in the accepted way. How do you enter a contest here? How to compete? Remove the barriers. Change the rules. What happens?


I want this to go even further now. Change the shape of the board. Make it circular. Change the shape of the pieces. Why should this even be chess? Stop this idea of taking. Play the game to mingle. Conjoin indistinct communities. Work the game away from war, battle.


Maybe its no longer about attack, winning, beating. Maybe shapes, shadows, and signs create new trusts, new joys. Look, king to pawn are fundamentally no different.  Castles are not neurotic, knights not psychotic, bishops not despotic. Status is gone. Movement is free. This is the nutopian ideal of the chess board. There are no countries, no passports, no flags.



"We announce the birth of a conceptual country, NUTOPIA.
Citizenship of the country can be obtained by declaration of your awareness of NUTOPIA.
NUTOPIA has no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people.
NUTOPIA has no laws other than cosmic.
All people of NUTOPIA are ambassadors of the country.
As two ambassadors of NUTOPIA, we ask for diplomatic immunity and recognition in the United Nations of our country and its people.

Yoko Ono Lennon
John Ono Lennon

Nutopian Embassy
One White Street
New York, New York 10013
April 1st 1973"

The national anthem of NUTOPIA has no sound and only lasts 3 seconds. Its flag is white and cannot be seen against a cloudy, cumulus sky. Nutopia like the chess set cannot be invaded, nor beaten, only occupied by you and me. I have spent time in Nutopia. I have built a social model there. I have spent time in Nutopia. I have found rights there. I have spent time in Nutopia, no abuse, no hate crime there. Should you imagine Nutopia on an all white chess board what will you see there?

Posted by Rich Downes, 26 June 2012

Last modified by Rich Downes, 8 July 2012

More Yoko No 2 - Yoko v We All Shot Pudsey Bear

Yoko Ono, Planting Acorns, Bagism, Bed Ins, We All Shot Pudsey Bear, We Are Spartacus, DPAC, direct action

Walking down Oxford Street en route to the Serpentine it struck me that two things I respect may be incompatible.


Yoko's great campaign is for peace. She loves you. Single equality issues such as racism, feminism, ageism can be mollified through observance of the greater cause. Her tactic's have included planting acorns, bagism (against prejudice and stereotyping) bed in's for peace (protesting war, promoting peace). Her work is best seen as an opportunity to be included, involved. She creates dialogues between herself, her thoughts, her listeners, viewers, readers. You are presented with the choice to participate. You are asked to sing, dance and smile. She remains impish, full of fun and vigour and given the chance will help you think.


I created the We All Shot Pudsey Bear Facebook Group. Some of our members have complained about the violence inherent in our logo. This started when Danner, Clair Lewis, sent me a picture of Puds. A gun pointed at his cheek, a hole bled in his cheek. After a brief email exchange, full of good humour, I added the text. Later young Bryn Findlay Dykes reversed the bear's smile to make him look sad. I have never shot Pudsey with anything more than a camera and would suggest you also refrain from shooting him. I have however, burned 'the little yellow bastard' (Source: Marisha Bonar) as a part of our annual Burn Pudsey Friday event which always coincides with the Beeb's Children In Need. The event is designed to bring disabled people, wherever they are, together in opposition to the Telefon, to have fun, socialise, organise, spread the message about the inadequacies of the Tragedy Model. This year we will celebrate our fifth burning. Participants talk about the empowering aspects of working together or alone in this way. Some want more direct action. Some don't realise this, like some of Yoko's work; is direct action. We All Shot Pudsey bear shares the wish to include and gain involvement.


The incompatibility exists in the idea of violence within the image, the violence implied within  the event. My defence is its only a stuffed toy for god's sake. No one is saying kill the beast.


The importance of the comparison between Yoko and us, for me, is to question the strategies we use, encourage greater involvement and inclusion. Whatever happened to the ideas behind Cuddle Day. These ideas came about through criticism of We Are Spartacus for its treatment of a mental health service user. Criticisms continued on surface on a DPAC demo. As a danner, myself, I know we sometimes fail this test. What we gonna do about it whilst Yoko continues to do it?


Oh by the way, Yoko's charitable contributions tend to be to humanitarian courses and a repsonse to disasters.

Posted by Rich Downes, 25 June 2012

Last modified by Rich Downes, 26 June 2012

More Yoko No 1 - Sketches from my notebook

The thought of meeting Yoko Ono - as a New Voices Writer excited me. If it came to be - and it did not - what would my interest be?

Positive Activism.
The Tragedy Model
How to commit simple instructions as a way of overcoming personal tragedy
The experience of exclusion
The nature of segregation
Participation and inclusivity 

I will say more about Positive Activism in More Yoko No 2 - Yoko Versus We All Shot Pudsey Bear.

The Tragedy Model. "Depicts disabled people as victims of circumstance who are deserving of pity"

I have lived experiences of the Tragedy Model. So, has Yoko. The death of John being just one circumstance. Living through war, malnutrition, child kidnap, sexism, racism, the burden of believed to have broken up the Beatles (a false belief), miscarriage. Yet Yoko does not come over as pitied, feared, tragic but brave, etc. How did she survive? How did she get by? Was art intrinsic to survival?

Yoko has done many instruction pieces. Here she gives out an instruction. It is up to you if you follow it. It is up to you to experience and create from the instruction. How do you instruct yourself to survive tragedy. This is an example of an instruction piece. It comes from Revelations, part of 100 Acorns.

"Bless you for your fear, For it is a sign of wisdom. Do not hold yourself in fear".

The experience of exclusion. The British Press and Media did not welcome Yoko. Neither did fans of the Beatles and it seems the Beatles themselves had to learn to love her. As disabled People we live in a time where the barons of Fleet Street and government minsiters seem only to keen to lay the blame for all that is wrong in our society at our feet.

The nature of segregation. More from 100 Acorns

You are water
I’m water
We’re all water in different containers
that’s why it’s so easy to meet
someday we’ll evaporate together
But even after the water’s gone
we’ll probably point out to the containers
and say, “that’s me there, that one.”
We’re container minders 

Participation and Inclusivity. Just in case you haven't got it yet. You are a part of Yoko's art. You are a part of art. Art cannot work without your participation. the difference is that Yoko seeks to include you and leaves it for you to be included or not.

Given these areas of interest, how could I not be interested in the art of Yoko Ono?

Posted by Rich Downes, 24 June 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 25 June 2012


Just wanted to write something quickly  about something i experienced last week. Our mate Ken mailed us inviting us to a ritual. Funny that.... our mate Ken.... only just started calling him that and it hits him with a frisson. On the one hand its nice, warm and means friendship. On the other hand its not a colloquialism he welcomes and demotes him from our teeacher - the maestro. For it was ken who took us through his course on Folkore, Mythology and Witchcraft. These interests are studied from a sociological perspective and Ken likes to be an insider. So it is we get field trips to ancient sites, do visualisation exercises, get turned on to folk music and dance, hear about rock n roll amongst the cunning folk and attend coven rituals.


Last weeks gig at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, a London home of the esoteric, fell to such an occasion.


Ken is a guest of the coven. Welcome when he wants to be there. He was excited to be given the role of Autumn Lord and wanted us to be there to experience and share it with him. This is one of his kindnesses which i tend to neglect. I treasure him for it here. And welcome the chance to reflect on the times he has asked me to either play Prince of Chaos (Halloween) or the internee of John Barclaycorn - deep in the woods at Lammas where no one can see him being murdered (not literally).


Anyway, a week early we found ourselves treated to a Summer Solstice Ritual. Later commenting on it and not being too pc, in the moment, i said it had all been a bit pouncey but i mean't thespy. Incredibly theatrical. Many players, many roles, Including the nobility designated to the quarters (hence, the Autumn Lord) welcoming in and saying farewell to the gods and elements of the compass points. A tableau is set before us from the circle. A crone becomes the earth mother goddess. Here isn't that sexist. Hopefully not in the context. The nobles vie for her hand. Autumn and Spring quickly lose out and Summer and Winter have a stand-off which given the time Summer wins. We dance a circle dance. The wheel spins on. We quaff ale and break bread before refusing the invite to dine as we prefer to go to the Dolphin for a quick half.


It was a good night. This week we have the solstice. Next week a barn dance. The old ways continue to call those who will listen. Me i can't be bothered. To join the gang i need to accept a divinity and get on a path and i'm too aetheist for that. Doesn't mean i can't play though


One thing it did remind of that fits here is the notion that only professionals can act as explored on DAO's facebook pages recently. The thing with this performance is some did it extremely well and some did it rather less well. Quality of performance did impact on the importance of it all.Still practice will make perfect.

Posted by Rich Downes, 18 June 2012

Last modified by Rich Downes, 18 June 2012

What could the Southbank's 'Festival Of the World' be to me and you and us and them?

I am here. You are there. Different, diverse, separate, apart. Can I share your world? Can you get into mine? I cannot speak for you. Except for those things we share. I cannot tell you what unless, in making this approach, I give you clues about what things I have myself.

Clues. Games. Treasure Hunts. Learning.

Sometimes in leaving my world I find other worlds I think I could make my world if I would give it a try. Snowdon. I look at the mountain range through a camera lens. I see it change everyday. Seasons, weather, light and dark. Steadfast stone changes. I cross moors and wonder if it effects the pressure on the point of a pen. I create perfectly ordered universes beneath the canvas of a tent, knowing how to make it safe.

On 31 May I saw the Southbank Centre as if for the first time. I want to make it home, a playground, a palette, a challenge. As a DAO New Voice I am privileged to attend a prestigious press launch of the Southbank's Festival of the World.

The 'p' word in that last sentence do not come easy to me on jubilee weekend with the terrors of noblesse oblige oppressing me - jarring at my jaw. I learn them afresh, awarding them different meanings. Everything can change. Excitement. I sit with writers I have probably read. I am with artists who have made the work I will see. My class consciousness isn't imprisoning me. I am not a slave to the social model. I fit here

Jude Kelly, Artistic Director stands in front of me. Sponsor rep, Paul Trueman, Head of Marketing, Mastercard, too. I fear not their status. Am not turned off by their words. They speak my language. They are no more than ordinary citizens of the world. Like me; they fit.

The lexicon of the festival is a thesaurus packed with surprise, imagination, dream, belief, principle. Propaganda is removed from a 50 year old festival. We were insular then and wanted to push out. Today we are open and want to embrace.

There is an environment here, much of it hidden, some of it used for the first time. More waits to be explored afresh. There are many workers, craftspeople, artists. Their commitment is to the expression of collective imaginations, inclusive communities. There is a freedom from inclusion that gives me/us the right to participate, the responsibility to look at this microcosm in all its richness, depth and glory, explore it and change it.

I wish to find an interned Bee, dig it up, release it. I might carry a spade next time I visit. I might be joking. I am obtuse. There are secrets here. There are things I will never know. Stuff I haven't said about me, words I have not heard from you. This is why I have to live here. I am curious. I must know. I must reveal. I must be responsive, understand my limits, descry the barriers that I was not able to traverse, express it to someone, be grown up about my position as a child of the festival of the world.

It is not going to be easy. Fitting will not be something I am able to do every minute of every day, but I love how this is organised, I applaud the spirit, the attitude and I was right all along about modern architecture and the environment it creates. I have to be here. I'd love for you to be here with me.

This is my hymn of praise. I am an atheist. There is much here I could knock down, turn my back on. Shit is shit, good or bad. My commitment is to what I can take, what I can learn, what I can build. Today I have no wish to destroy. I am encouraged and empowered. Come live with me. Bring your world to mine.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 6 June 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 8 June 2012

Today I Met The B Man at The Festival of the World

One of many designers at The Southbank's Festival of the World is Bee Man, not Beaman - Marc Cowan. He is the Bee Man because he likes bees. Well... partially. Not fully. He is the Bee Man bee cause he is involved in the days top story, told by someone else about a bee.

The story was related by the Queen Bee. It involved Marc the Bee Man. Once upon a time we all beecame very small and found ourselves stretched out, feeding, cocoon like in a hive. Queen Bee June, the Queen of mid summer, was throwing a party to celebrate a festival and she was telling everbody about the worker bees especially Bee Man Marc Cowan for it was Marc who built this little vast world in which we were regaled.

Marc the Bee Man built the floor. Outside the space he found a bee. A BIG BEE! A BIG DEAD BEE!!. He bought the BIG DEAD BEE!!! into the hive and he covered it in resin to protect it and to stop it having no meaning other than the meaning that he had given it or at least the meaning that Queen Bee June misrepresented beecause Queen Bee, whose word must bee trusted beenignly gave the impression that the BIG DEAD BEE!!! was now buried in the floor of the space that we call the hive. What was it doing there? What do you think it was doing there? I don't know but I do know this. I was curious. 

I wanted to get myself into a busy bee tizzy of activity and go home and find a spade and come back to the hive and dig up the floor and find that BIG DEAD BEE!!! and find out for myself what it was doing there. What had happened to it. Now this is typical me. I am big, blustery, breaker of balls (sorry - walls) and floors and typically I had no concern as to the state of the space and how we would all be ok to stay there and bee regaled again.

So it was that everyone got frightfully buzzy busy and flapped and fussed and i found myself outside smelling the flowers, passing messages to my friends about who i was and what i was doing and how i would find that BIG DEAD BEE!!! and as i passed around doing my bee dance of communication to Ms A and Ms B, not bee. I eventually found Mr C himself.

Marc Cowan is a freelance designer. He is a very nice man. He had been working as a volunteer at the South Bank, helping to create a space, the Festival Village, a hive in the centre of the Festival of the World. He quickly worked his way up the workers queue and he was given a job to do, for he was an enthusiast and he had an idea and the idea was to create a floor and the one thing no one wanted him to do because it would bee too big and bee too long and bee too expensive was to build a floor. So what did Marc say he wanted to do? He said he wanted to build a floor. And just beecause everyone said don't build a floor Marc for all the reasons already given, which no one now wanted to say again it was agreed that all the workers could get together around Marc and build a floor. Wood was salvaged, matting was recycled, some money was spent on things just so Marc could realise an idea in a public space and that's a wonderful thing. But, something people don't realise about the South Bank, its not something that you would necessarily know, is they have a commitment to using space, creating environments, sustaining and developing life and a life force they are very proud of is the fact of their own lovely bees of which they are very proud. 

Marc was outside the space one day and he found a bee. Have you ever seen the first bee of spring? It is a very BIG BEE!! VERY HEAVY BEE!!! flies close to the ground type of bee, seeking out the smallest flowers, the flowers that have hardly grown type of flowers. Those ones. You know them, The crocuses, the snow drops, the small before the daffodils ones.

And Marc thought what can I do with this BIG DEAD BEE!!! to show my love for it, my pride in it, my empathy with its struggles in this time of bad climate. I'll preserve it. I'll put it in my floor. I'll put it where people can find it; if only they know it is there, or are open to the fact that it can be found.

Well I like Marc Cowan and I liked his story and I liked his story even better than the Queen's Story but I was still curious. Curious and quite glad that I didn't have to go all the way home and pick up a spade and go all the way back to the hive of the Festival Village and knock down all the walls and dig up all the floors to find the bee.

But I was still curious enough to go back when I shouldn't have gone back and walk in and not be challenged for walking in and scouring the floor in a nose low to the ground type of way to find - not a bee covered in resin - but a cast, an impression of a BIG DEAD BEE!!! and I loved the fact of this story that I could just go and do that, and hear that, and write that, and tell you, dear readers.

Thank you Marc the Bee Man and Queen Bee June, Queen of Mid Summer, Artistic Director of the South Bank for without you and your Festival of the World this story would never have happened.

Posted by , 1 June 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 8 June 2012