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Yoko Ono’s Siksika collaborator creates a waterbed for Alberta premier to lie in

In 1971 Ono, political activist, artist and wife of now late John Lennon of Beatles fame, held her first museum exhibition in which she invited more than 120 participants to produce a water sculpture. 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney probably doesn't know it yet, but acclaimed Siksika artist Adrian A Stimson has gifted him a waterbed.

“Maybe somebody will have to give him a call and tell him. Maybe I should give him a call and tell him,” said Stimson, who kicked off part one of Yoko Ono’s exhibition Growing Freedom at Contemporary Calgary last night. The event was broadcast on Facebook Live.

The waterbed is an art installation Stimson created for the newest iteration of “Water Event.” 

In 1971 Ono, political activist, artist and wife of now late John Lennon of Beatles fame, held her first museum exhibition in which she invited more than 120 participants to produce a water sculpture. 

Wrote Ono in her 1967 poem “Water Talk”, You are water. I’m water. We’re all water in different containers. That’s why it’s so easy to meet. And one day we will evaporate together. But even after the water is gone, we’ll probably point out to the containers, ‘That’s me there. That one.’  We’re container minders.

Ryan Doherty, chief curator of Contemporary Calgary, says when they were tasked with asking a new group of artists to collaborate with Ono in the Calgary Water Event, he knew it had to be a group with whom water had “enormous significance”.

“When you consider the long history and impact of the Bow and Elbow rivers to the Indigenous population, past and present, it seemed the best thing would be to invite artists for whom that connection would resonate in the collaboration with Yoko,” said Doherty.

The other Water Event collaborators who will be exhibiting at the gallery are Faye HeavyShield, seth cardinal dodginghorse, Jessie Ray Short, Judy Anderson and Kablusiak.

Creating a waterbed only made sense, said Stimson, considering he’s a “product of the ‘70s” and owned a waterbed.

But it was also a nod to Ono’s and Lennon’s famous bed-ins for peace. The couple’s bed-in for peace in Montreal marked its 50th anniversary in 2019.

“Yoko asked us if we would gift this to somebody. I started to think, who would I gift this to in the spirit of love and education and such? And I thought perhaps I would give it to our Premier Jason Kenney,” said Stimson.

The waterbed is the proverbial nod to “you made your bed, now lie in it”, he explained.

Stimson drew the connection between the impact agriculture and oil and gas have on water. He also dismissed Kenney’s $30-million war room as something done by “little boys” to “fight a fictitious war (which) is absolutely, incredibly, outrageously stupid… because it’s all meant to go after these people who are against the oil industry. 

“We all know that industry is dying. We all know there’s going to be a transition period for which I’m sure everybody has the patience to move through. But we have to change.”

It’s a realization politicians have yet to come to, said Stimson.

“For those who don’t feel that way, one day when their grandchildren have no water to drink or no land to grow food on maybe they’ll change their mind then.”

Kenney wasn’t the only politician Stimson talked about for failing to understand the importance of water. He said, like others, he has been disappointed with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s inability to deliver on his promise to provide clean water to all First Nations and finally do-away with all boil water advisories in Indigenous communities.

While the Trudeau government has delivered in some areas, the Liberals have presented themselves in many ways as the “same old same old.”

“Every Canadian deserves the right to clean water. So I think we can still say that loudly and say it clearly and let’s hope at some point a politician actually listens and does something dramatic. Let’s not just do little things. Attack it like you would attack something that needs to be dealt with in a good way,” said Stimson.

While it is easy for anger to take over, he said, it’s important that it doesn’t.

“The anger that this raises within us, and I soon realized I was internalizing all this anger, and it only hurts yourself. So I think for me it’s so important to look at these ideas of love. So thank you, Yoko, for reminding me,” he said.

So it’s in the “spirt of love and fellowship” that Stimson is gifting Kenney the waterbed.

“I understand and believe that Premier Kenney is an art lover. He’s often been seen in art galleries, enjoying the works and stuff, so I would hope that he would actually come here and see his work. It’s his,” said Stimson.

The Yoko Ono: Growing Freedom exhibition will be at Contemporary Calgary until Jan. 31, 2021. The exhibition was organized by the Phi Foundation for Contemporary Art, Montreal and curated by Gunnar B. Kvaran and Cheryl Sim. 

The exhibition will also be installed at the Vancouver Art Gallery and Kunsthalle Amsterdam.

Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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