Yoko Ono's Peaceful Message Takes Root

At the Tidal Basin, Sabrina Adams ties a wish onto one of the 10 trees included in the Washington edition of Ono's global project.
At the Tidal Basin, Sabrina Adams ties a wish onto one of the 10 trees included in the Washington edition of Ono's global project. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

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By Jessica Dawson
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Yes, that was Yoko Ono whispering into the bark of a cherry tree at the Tidal Basin yesterday morning. The artist, performer and widow of John Lennon visited Washington on Sunday and Monday to bring her "Imagine Peace" project to the city.

In yesterday's brief "Wish Tree" ceremony at the foot of the Jefferson Memorial, the 74-year-old Ono invited people to write wishes on small pieces of paper and tie them to the branches of potted cherry trees. Ono has installed the trees in cities across the globe and says they were inspired by temple wish trees that she saw during her youth in Japan.

Ono's citywide project includes 10 of the trees. People can contribute wishes for the next two weeks.

Soon after Ono tied on the first wish, tourists swarmed the trees to add their own. Some of the public's goals were lofty: "I wish for equality for all and an end to tyranny and poverty," read one wish. Others were humbler and more personal: "I wish everyday was swimming."

Ono promised to collect all the Washington wishes and add them to her cache -- she claims to have more than 100,000 collected from trees throughout the world. The papers will be incorporated into the artist's Imagine Peace Tower, which will be installed later this year in Iceland. Ono was vague about the structure's exact design and said it would be made of light.

Both the Peace Tower and the tree project are part of the artist's long-standing efforts to encourage public participation in artmaking and to promote worldwide peace and understanding. Ono began creating art around 1960.

Six of her trees are near the Jefferson Memorial. Three were installed on Sunday afternoon at Anacostia's THEARC (Town Hall Education Arts & Recreation Campus). Another joined the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden's permanent collection during a second ceremony held yesterday afternoon.

During her time among the cherry blossoms, Ono also paid a visit to the Japanese Lantern Lawn, near Independence Avenue and 17th Street NW, where a supplemental Wish Tree features a plaque inviting passersby to whisper their aspirations to the tree. A small crowd gathered as the diminutive artist -- surrounded by an independent film crew, friends and a bodyguard -- raised cupped hands to the tree and uttered her desire into its trunk. Though Ono prefers not to discuss the wishes she makes, the one she tied onto the first cherry tree was visible to all. Her wish: "The cherry blossoms in Washington, DC will always bring beauty + peace to this city. So be it. y.o. '07"

Ono also unveiled a 55-foot-tall billboard attached to Verizon Center's Seventh Street facade; it reads, simply, "Imagine Peace."

Trees at the Tidal Basin and at THEARC will remain accessible for public wishmaking until April 15. Slips of paper and yarn are provided. Those trees will later be planted outside THEARC, 1901 Mississippi Ave. SE. The Hirshhorn tree will be on exhibit indefinitely. Ono's billboard will hang at Verizon Center until April 30.

Her installations are part of "Street Scenes: Projects for DC," a continuing public-art project curated by Nora Halpern and Welmoed Laanstra. For more information, call 301- 651-8275 or visit http://www.streetscenesdc.com.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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