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Yoko Ono gives peace a chance, one home town at a time

Yoko Ono performs at the SXSW Music Festival on Sunday, March 20, 2011.

Jack Plunkett/AP

To exchange an e-mail with Yoko Ono is to become one with her philosophy – and her aphoristic way of expressing it.

The new seven-minute animated film My Hometown is the excuse for the e-mail. The film is co-directed by Toronto lawyer Jerry Levitan, who kept in touch with Ono after he made the 2007 Oscar-nominated short I Met The Walrus. It recalled the time in 1969 when he snuck into John Lennon and Ono's Toronto hotel room to conduct an interview with the couple during their "bed in" days.

Ono liked that earlier film. And she agreed to do My Hometown (co-directed by Toronto-based filmmaker Terry Tompkins), which adapts to film a very Ono-esque tract that she wrote in 2009.

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Ono's brief written work imagines that peace is possible simply with the realization that every town in the world is someone else's hometown. And a hometown is just a place on the map on which we place our love and positive thoughts.

My Hometown, which has Ono reading her own writing accompanied by basic animation, has an obvious link to the one-love statelessness in John Lennon's Imagine, the call to Give Peace a Chance and the minimalism seen throughout Ono's own artistic career.

So why, I ask via e-mail, is her very simple call to respect hometowns around the world still such a surprising idea, still so alien to how the world really works?

"Essential things in life are all very simple and affirmative: breathing, singing, loving, dreaming, dancing…" she writes back.

Is My Hometown how Ono views the peripatetic times of her own life – in Japan, England and the United States?

"Everywhere is somebody's hometown. And your love will make it yours," she responds, with the same concision as her weekly Twitter sessions, in which she answers questions from the public. Ono isn't big on extrapolation.

But that matches her art. Her most famous piece, 1966's Ceiling Painting (Yes Painting), required viewers to climb a step ladder and use a magnifying glass to read one tiny printed word – "yes" – on a framed piece of paper affixed to the ceiling. In Beatles iconography, the piece is one of the reasons Lennon fell for Ono.

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Does Ono still feel that she is collaborating, in a sense, with Lennon?

"We have always been collaborating … before we met, when we were together, and now," she writes.

My Hometown was originally written for a 2009 exhibition in Venice and was included in a self-published book on display which she called The Other Rooms. "In that show," Ono explains, "we had six physical rooms and 101 conceptual rooms presented [in pieces of writing]in the book. Therefore, it was the largest exhibition in Venice that year, with 107 rooms," she adds jokingly.

And now, with My Hometown now a short film, what is next for Ono?

"Breathing deeply."

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About the Author

Guy Dixon is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail. More

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