Give Peace A Chance

On the International Day of Peace in September, Montreal’s Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel commemorated John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s famous “bed-in” for peace by redesigning the historic suite as an immersive art experience.

[dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]W[/dropcap]hen The Beatles frontman John Lennon married Japanese artist Yoko Ono in 1969, the news was covered in every major newspaper on both sides of the Atlantic. Using the media attention to their advantage, the newlyweds staged two week-long “bed-ins” for peace as a way of protesting the Vietnam War. They staged the first one at the Hilton Hotel in Amsterdam, and the second at Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel in Montreal, Quebec.

Two months ago – 48 years since the Montreal bed-in – the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth unveiled a newly redesigned Suite 1742 to celebrate that iconic event with an exhibition that captures the spirit of the couple’s intention.

It was inside that suite where illustrious visitors such as Timothy Leary, Tommy Smothers, Dick Gregory, Murray the K, Al Capp, Allen Ginsberg and others gathered to sing “Give Peace a Chance,” which was recorded by André Perry in that hotel room and released as a music single. 

Preserving the historical character of Suite 1742 was a key goal of the hotel’s recent transformation by owner Ivanhoé Cambridge. The concept for the redesign – developed by Sid Lee Architecture – hinged on rearranging the furniture in the same way Lennon and Ono had for their famous bed-in.

Photography by Stephane Brugger

The first step was to place the bed against the main window and free the central space. Rather than recreate the hotel’s period décor, the designer draws inspiration from places the couple had lived in or visited, such as London, New York, Tokyo, and New Delhi.

Reproductions of the famous handwritten Hair Peace and Bed Peace cut-outs adorn the window once again, while the words of the song “Give Peace a Chance,” are inscribed repeatedly on the walls in the fashion of a war memorial — with, in this case, a wish for peace in lieu of the names of fallen soldiers.

One of the distinctive features of the John and Yoko Suite is the incorporation of artworks, interactive pieces, and multimedia installations designed and produced by MASSIVart (a Montreal-based production & art direction agency that connects artists, brands, and people). They include an archival cabinet containing photos, videos, and historical items, among them a “Give Peace a Chance” vinyl record.

Photography by Stephane Brugger

Visitors will be able to don virtual-reality headsets placed on the nightstands on either side of the bed to partake in the exclusive immersive experience, which allows them to sense the unique energy of the bed-in from the point of view of John or Yoko. The themes of peace, love, and creativity are front and center in this special design project.

At the time of the unveiling, Sid Lee Collective and MASSIVart invited Montrealers to gather at the Place Ville Marie Esplanade for the largest outdoor bed-in ever to be held in North America as well as to view exhibition posters for peace featuring art created in tribute to the original bed-in. The exhibition includes works by 40 artists from around the world, printed on sheets placed on the beds arranged along the Esplanade. The proceeds from the sale of reproductions of the works will go to Amnesty International.

Martin Leblanc told reporters at a news conference and tour to mark the suite’s reopening, “We want to celebrate peace and make John’s and Yoko’s message current, in a non-museum fashion.”

In an article in the Toronto Sun, hotel spokeswoman Joanne Papineau said the hotel didn’t always go to such lengths to preserve the event’s history, since at the time many hotel guests complained about the media circus and the long-haired hippies hanging out in the lobby. “People asked us to throw (Lennon and Ono) out,” she noted. “Luckily, we didn’t listen.” According to the Toronto Sun article, it was only after Lennon died in 1981 that the hotel began to take steps to commemorate the event. Papineau was quoted as stating that guests who book the 1,370-sq.-ft. suite before the end of 2017 will be charged a promotional rate of $1,969 per night as a nod to the year of the bed-in. 

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