How Holding Yoko Ono's Rocks Helped Me Deal, Kind Of

Yoko Ono‘s new exhibit “The Riverbed,” is a three part interactive exhibit dedicated to helping you overcome your feels. Jointly hosted by the Andrea Rosen Gallery and Galerie Lelong, it asks the audience to take a moment to reflect on themselves. It’s all about fixing what’s broken inside, or else steeling yourself against the pain to come using glue, pencils, and a little arts and crafts. According to Yoko:

“The River Bed is the river bed that is the in-between life and death…
Stone will help you let go all poisonous thoughts from your mind and body
Line will take me to the furthest place in our planet by you with love.
Mending will only be done by we who are connected in our spirits to each other.
With our wisdom, love and creativity we will mend what has been broken, or about to be”

I’m broken, but only as much as any other college kid. My constant state of mind since I’ve begun school in August 2013 can be summed up by the color poop green: a little gross, a little sad, a little mad, but kinda interesting if you’re into it. And when finals week comes around, it gets just a little poopier. 

I needed some spiritual cleansing. I know this because when I called my mom the other day and started sobbing about the broken vending machine, she said “Bria, you need some spiritual cleansing.” I agreed, but therapy isn’t cheap and churches freak me out. So when Milk asked me to check out “Riverbed,” I said, “Sure, why not? We’re all slowly dying anyway.”

Saturday, December 12th, was the perfect day to go. The sky was grey, I was officially too poor to buy coffee, and my professor had just emailed us details for our final exam. All problems that I didn’t feel like dealing with at the moment. So rather than actually attempt to handle any of this, I threw on my best Old Navy tank top–the hole by the boob makes a great conversation starter–and headed for the Andrea Rosen Gallery.

I figured that a lot of bougie types would be there, a lot of art students and the professors they may or may not have been fucking, so I thought that it’d be good to make a nice impression. My walk there had me contemplating whether or not a rich man would find my tank top quirky enough to warrant him whisking me away from this poor college life and into a penthouse suite. But then I actually entered the gallery, took one look around,  and thought to myself “lol nah.” Everyone there was either A. old, happy and wifed up or B. much like me: young, broke, and miserable.

The first room’s walls were covered in drawings, ads, phone numbers, and Instagram account handles. Snooty art students with their Topshop jeans sat in a corner filling in the details of an elaborate mural. An old woman asked her friend Beth why someone would draw a smiling penis on the wall. “Riverbed” is an interactive exhibit, and this first piece invited us all to get creative and decorate the walls. Strings criss-crossing the room beckoned for me to “extend the universe,” so I picked up a pen and tried to draw some kickass lines. Everyone else used pencil, but my pain deserved to be immortalized in ink. But pens actually suck when it comes to writing on anything that isn’t paper. Who knew?

That doesn’t mean that I gave up, though. I shrugged off the blow to my self-esteem and strode to the nearest corner, head held high. In roughly three minutes, I had created a, dare I say it, total work of art: A picture of me, a whole and happy human being. You can tell that I’m happy, because I have a house and money. I even gave myself a fancy laptop that doesn’t break down every time you sneeze on it.

With that out the way, I continued my trek through the room. A pile of rocks were gathered on the other side. They were smooth and porous, the type you could find on a…riverbed. (Sorry, had to). A sign told me to pick one up and hold it until I let go of all my anger and sadness. “Yoko,” I thought, “anger and sadness are the only things keeping me ALIVE!” But the least I could do was actually touch one. I picked out a nice, unassuming rock and then I…promptly left. No one else in the room had come anywhere near the rocks, and I wasn’t about to be that lone girl getting too emotionally turnt at the art exhibit. No, if I was going to do this, it would be when other people were doing it too. I needed a community of rock lovers to rise up and invite me to join them.

And so, once again avoiding the situation at hand, I went into the back room. Yoko’s third piece is called “Mend,” and the room was covered in shattered pottery. Ornate shelves housed “fixed” plates and cups, some of which dangled off the edges with pieces of twine.

As happy, secure couples with happy, secure futures drifted past to coo and “ooh” at the destruction, I found myself unable to move. The table in the center of the room offered up tape, super glue, Elmer’s glue, twine, and all the broken pottery a kid like me could ever ask for. It was obvious that I was supposed to fix something. Instead, I broke two. “Are you fucking kidding me?” A voice suddenly called out to me from beyond. “I’m sorry?” it whispered.

The first thought that came to my mind was that it had come from the void, here at last to take me away. Was it was finally my time? My eyes began to water. But it wasn’t the void at all; as it turned out, I’d been glaring at someone’s grandmother for roughly half a minute now. She was starting to worry.

Such an encounter would’ve felled any other kid with a sense of manners or humility, but I hadn’t actually spoken to another person in roughly three days. My voice cracked from disuse, so I tried to gesture to her instead. “Sorry,” I said with a flick of the wrist, “I said, ‘Are you fucking kidding me,’ as in, are you fucking serious?”

“I’m not sure I understand what you’re talking about,” said the concerned crease of her brows.

She swiftly walked away. Yoko got to destroy all these dishes, my teachers got to destroy my hopes and dreams, and my roommate is slowly destroying the sanctity of my happy home because she never washes her goddamned bowls. When will I get to destroy something? 

Left alone to my own angsty devices, I sat down at the table and went to work. In a few seconds, I’d managed to find two large pieces of a tea cup and super glued them together. I then searched the pile for another matching piece, and instead found nothing. Those were the only two pieces I could find. A heavy panic began to set in as I clutched the most-of-a-bowl in my hands. There had to have been a way for me to fix it.

In between my nervous sweats, I’d look up to find the woman across from me making the daintiest ceramic sailboat I’d ever seen in my entire life. Did it still look like a bunch of broken pottery, held together by the magic of tape? Yes. But as she held it up to the light, I could tell by her confident, eager grin that she was proud of what she’d made. She was obviously so proud, that I felt proud of her too.

But I couldn’t be proud of my own most-of-a-bowl. I passive aggressively glued random pieces to my piece, wondering what had become of those I was missing. The final straw came as I was trying to use pottery dust and Elmer’s glue as a sort of mortar. A girl sat down next to me clutching to most perfectly mended tea cup I’d ever seen. Twine had been used to fill up the seams. It was genius. I was done. I was so fucking done.

I wandered back into the first room. A record breaking two people were holding rocks now, and my anxiety was now at an all time high. Now was my chance. No one had touched my rock, whom I’d named Trevor because a Trevor has never done me wrong. I picked it up again, contemplated the ethics of sitting with the other rock holders, before finally just sitting by myself. I didn’t want to be alone, but I didn’t actually want anyone to talk to me either. I re-read the plaque to make sure I did everything right.

The words “let go,” written on the rock, stuck with me. I don’t know, when someone tells you to “get over something” or to wait until it all just “goes away,” there’s this knowledge that it (your sadness, your rage, your disappointment) will come back. You spend so much time trying to shake it off, only for it to surprise you when you’re walking down the street, brushing your teeth, or hanging out with the ones you love; to let go of it was to cast it off into the sea and watch it drift away. Like it or not, I liked being negative. Set adrift in a world that I’m not totally ready for, “anger” is the Wilson to my Tom Hanks. It’s the thing that I can be sure will never leave me.

Still, I’m not one to reject free therapy. So I sat back relaxed, took the rock in my hand, and closed my eyes.

I spent maybe ten minutes just sitting like that, thinking about myself and what getting emotional about a broken bowl says about me. And then I opened my eyes and just held it for a bit. And then I got up, and put Trevor back. And I left.

The next day I nearly cursed out two customers at work for being open-mouth breathers, and I’ve written two drafts of an email that I’ll never send telling my professor why he should take his exam and shove it up his crack. But still, maybe I should aim for something better than “poop green.”

The Riverbed is on view at the Andrea Rosen Gallery through January 23rd, and Galerie Lelong through January 29th. 

Images courtesy of  Andrea Rosen Gallery. Image of Yoko Ono via Galerie Lelong.

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