Yoko Ono joins the clangers: why bell-ringing is the new bed-in

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Fifty years since she and John Lennon slipped between the sheets, Yoko Ono has created another artwork for peace: 4,000 bells to wake up Manchester

John Lennon once called Imagine “an ad campaign for peace”. Sadly, it wasn’t a very successful campaign; war has remained incomprehensibly popular even as the song itself has become ubiquitous – it topped a 1999 poll to find Britain’s favourite song lyric. Written as the Vietnam war raged, Imagine now seems clearly influenced by Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono, and her 1964 book Grapefruit, a collection of instructions that stand in for physical artworks. “Imagine the clouds dripping. Dig a hole in your garden to put them in,” run the familiar-sounding instructions for Cloud Piece.

Ono wouldn’t be given a songwriting credit on Imagine until 2017, but by 1971 she had already become the most significant artistic influence on Lennon since Chuck Berry. For decades, Ono was vilified by rubber-necking journalists and bitter Beatles fans alike, and her work – encompassing some of the most provocative and original feminist art of the era – was largely ignored. (Lennon once called her “the world’s most famous unknown artist”.) But at the turn of the millennium, the Japanese conceptualist finally began to be recognised as a major artist, with international retrospectives and even a reunion of the Plastic Ono Band, her caterwauling avant-rock ensemble, whose albums repelled 70s critics but inspired a generation of punks such as Sonic Youth.

I always wanted to do a bell piece of music, and I got a chance to do it, so I’m doing it

People like to run, jump and skip, and it's not the so-called interesting thing to do

One of the things she always said is that peace isn't absence of war – peace is a thing that you have to do, together

Related: Yoko Ono releases new version of John Lennon's Imagine

Yoko Ono: Bells For Peace opens Manchester international festival on 4 July.

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