Give peace a chance: "Strange Bedfellows" at Ellsworth Gallery

Michael Abatemarco, Pasa Tiempo, November 1, 2019

In March of 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged the first of two Bed-Ins for Peace, intended as nonviolent protests against the Vietnam War. The first Bed-In lasted a week and took place in the presidential suite of Amsterdam’s Hilton Hotel. It was how the newlywed musicians spent part of their honeymoon.  The event garnered a lot of publicity, and they did it again, two months later, at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, where Lennon wrote the hit song “Give Peace a Chance.”  “I used to see John and Yoko on the street a lot when I was growing up,” says Barry Ellsworth, owner of Ellsworth Gallery, who was raised in New York City. “I feel a little bit of a personal connection to them.” Inspired by the Bed-Ins, Ellsworth invites you to take a time out from the political divisiveness affecting society and go back to bed. Strange Bedfellows is a monthlong series of performances that take place on a king-size bed inside the gallery, which is outfitted to look like a bedroom, replete with bedside tables, table lamps, a carpet, and a cozy chair. The events commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Bed-Ins for Peace, and also provide participants and viewers with an intimate — but public — setting in which to express themselves and interact. “It was partly inspired by the idea of getting back to the basics of human connection in this internet age,” Ellsworth says. “Now we’re seeing the dark side of the internet and social media. It speaks a little bit to our times and it’s an opportunity to bring in members of the community.” Strange Bedfellows takes place during three time slots (3 to 5 p.m., 5 to 7 p.m., and 7 to 9 p.m.) every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday through Nov. 16. The “performances” will be a surprise for the gallery as much as for the audience, since there is no set agenda. “It’s great if you want to do a performance, but it’s also OK if you want to do what you’d do, or would like to do, in bed,” Ellsworth says. “Just as long as no one gets hurt.”  On the first night of the event (Oct. 24), Ellsworth’s mother read people a bedtime story. Photographer Tommy Bruce, who appears in costume as his furry alter-ego Atmus the Deer at 5 p.m. on Nov. 15, has even less lofty ambitions. “I need to rest,” he says.  Depending on the nature of the performance (some of them may not be appropriate for all age groups) passersby can see it happening through the gallery’s front window, which provides a view into the space.  “It is such a super tricky and tender time on the planet,” says transgender artist and improvisational comedian Quinn Fontaine, who performs at 7 p.m. on Nov. 14. “It’s imperative that we realize we’re way more alike than we are different. ... This project really feels like it will contribute to softening the hard places in one another.”