As we head back to Saddleworth after our visit to Leeds Arts University’s new building at Blenheim Walk, I tell someone off on the train and my daughter is pleased with that at least. Though when you’ve just experienced something so profound, when you’ve seen people crying out for better ways to communicate how they feel, I suppose you should be more compassionate.

“Don’t join the army,” he was saying to this young girl sat opposite him with her Mum. She’d said she was enlisting to be trained up, get fit and learn to drive for free, then leave before she was old enough for combat. But he’d chosen to listen to only some of her conversation. “You’re going off fighting for them to come over here and live off your taxes? Nah, nah, nah…the real battle is here and now. The real war is going on at home.”

We’d missed the opening of Yoko Ono’s installations in Leeds. But I’d arranged to view it a few days later. My daughter came with me, the idea being she could talk about the exhibition during an interview for the foundation course at the uni in a few weeks’ time. But in the freezing conditions, Sherpa Crabb led the expedition up the wrong mountain which added ten minutes of climbing onto the adventure. And those ten minutes had caused friction within the party.

We entered the atrium into what I thought was an installation – clumps of people sat together under the weight of silent anticipation, in a strange ratio of middle-aged and 20-year-olds. My good eye swept the room to see if Yoko Ono was propped up in a bag somewhere as my daughter shunted me towards the counter of Dot the Lions café to ask where the toilets were. She then huffed off mid-directions before I could get her some food.

Yoko Ono at Leeds, The Blenheim Walk Gallery, Leeds Arts University I found a seat on some steps and tried to wolf something down before seeing the artwork.

“CAN YOU CHEW YOUR FISH SALAD THAT YOU SELFISHLY GOT FOR YOURSELF QUIETLY PLEASE,” whispers my daughter loudly as she returns from the toilet with renewed fervour.

“These are all here for their interview for the BA,” I say, trying to close the food carton.

“I don’t know what that is,” she says.

“It’s the degree after your course…”  

“…Can we just go now? I want to go back home.”

Yoko Ono at Leeds, The Blenheim Walk Gallery, Leeds Arts University In the time I was with the installations I made her wait outside for me. I read through the hopes on the Wish Trees, I saw people painting pleas on the walls for a better world, and on the refugee boat floating on the floor were kind thoughts and statements. I read the notes provided for Arising, notes of survival from women and girls in horrendous circumstances. I did all this as an anxious girl waited for the barrage from her woman-child parent who was upset that the day hadn’t turned out the way she wanted. A cruel irony played out that. I love writing. I love writing reviews and I would be lying to myself if I didn’t include my feelings and thoughts when I feel moved; you should feel moved. She stormed away alone into the city and I lost her.

Every day, while the installations are there, people are invited by Yoko Ono to paint slogans of hope, love, anger, survival and engrained fears. They’ll tell sad stories that need happy endings. Could they always be in the right frame of mind to leave a lasting impression on someone else? Or by the time everyone has written what they need to on the walls and on the boat, will it just be paint with smatterings of wall and nothing more?

Yoko Ono at Leeds, The Blenheim Walk Gallery, Leeds Arts University The installation Mend Piece has broken cups and saucers tied back together by twine that cannot fix them fit for purpose. That’s us right now. You should feel moved, but it’s not the law.

When I eventually find my daughter, alone in the station – a station with a roof that was going to fall in but is now held up by scaffolding – she is on Instagram, speaking to her international network of young artists who feel the same as she does, no doubt, about what a twat I am. I take her for a burrito and then buy some bath bombs before the train. I worry that we will fall out one day for a long time. “No, we won’t,” she says. “I just need a bit of time away from you at the moment.”

On the train home we hear snippets from the man’s gob that tip me over. Something about coming over in ferries to Spain and something about coming straight here for benefits that he pays for. I bob up in my seat. “Excuse me, can you be quiet, please. We don’t want to listen to your opinions.”

By Cathy Crabb

Main image: Yoko Ono Wish Trees for Beijing 1996-2015 Installation view at Faurschou Foundation Beijing, Beijing China, 2015. Photo by Emma Zhang. 


Yoko Ono at Leeds is on at The Blenheim Walk Gallery which is part of Leeds Arts University until March 14, 2019