Manchester International Festival: Yoko Ono’s bells to make a noise for peace

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Lee Baxter

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MIF volunteers rehearsing their bell-ringing in front of a photo of Yoko Ono

Bells will ring out to open the Manchester International Festival after Yoko Ono called on thousands of people to make “an incredible vibration”.

Festival organisers hope a “people’s orchestra of bells” will take part in her event, titled Bells For Peace.

“When I was a little girl and we wanted to celebrate, we always made sure to use the bell,” the Tokyo-born artist said. “Peace is a celebration.”

Celebrating peace will be noisy, though, and ear-plugs will be provided.

The venue for the event, Cathedral Gardens, is a stone’s throw from Manchester Arena, where 22 people were killed in a suicide bombing after an Ariana Grande concert in 2017.

Ono, 86, has been unable to travel to Manchester, but will appear on screens to lead the attendees through a series of instructions from 18:00 BST before the massed ring-a-thon.

She told BBC News by email she wanted to be involved “because Manchester has strength and energy”. The event would have “an incredible vibration” that “might just change the world”, she added.

‘Peace is not passive’

Bells For Peace co-ordinator Emily Lim said the artist and musician “didn’t want this to feel like something people were passive in”.

Lim said: “She doesn’t feel or think of peace as a passive thing. She wants this moment to feel like something that is really active and energised, and that people feel like ‘we have to do something’ to be part of this moment of action for peace.

“People should expect something quite physical, and it’s very accessible, everyone can do it. But the ringing of our bells is going to feel like something that takes effort, and our ambition is that it’s a moment that people feel really united in.”

The festival has had 4,000 hand-engraved bells made to hand out to those who turn up, and has held bell-making workshops with 400 participants from across the city. People have also been asked to bring their own bells, from hand bells to bicycle bells – or, failing that, phone ringtones.

Bells For Peace will kick off the 18-day biennial arts festival. Elsewhere, grime star Skepta has created an homage to rave culture, Maxine Peake will play tragic 1960s chanteuse Nico, and composer Philip Glass has co-created a performance exploring life, loss and inspiration.

There will be a major exhibition of the art of film-maker David Lynch – but, like Ono, he is not travelling to Manchester.

A shadow was cast over the opening on Tuesday when two writers who worked on Tree, a theatre show credited to Idris Elba and Young Vic artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah, said they had been “pushed off” the project and had suffered “intimidation and disrespect”.

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