The Art of World Peace
Edith Betkowski and Dominik Sokolowski in front of the artist's Heart painting. Photo by Eric Murphy.
From February 10 to 21, Alpha Art Gallery is completely dedicating its walls, and plenty of the floor, to love. In their Love and Peace exhibit, gallery owner Edith Betkowski and artist Dominik Sokolowski will spend 11 days and nights on a bed they’ve set up in the gallery, surrounded by Sokolowski’s meticulously detailed heart paintings.
This living exhibit is inspired by John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s two 1969 ‘Bed-ins,’ where the couple famously spent a week in bed, first in Amsterdam, then in Montreal.
Alpha’s Bed-in is also meant to be a message of peace, and Betkowski argues that symbols like that are as relevant now as they were in 1969.
“How, with all our education and experience, we’re still not able to keep the globe at peace?” she asks. The exhibit’s living element is also something Ottawans often miss out on in the art world.
“Nobody has ever seen anything like that in Ottawa,” Betkowski notes. “Why not bring art to the level of New York, where they have performance art all the time?”
The gallery owner is adamant that there will be no cheating in the exhibit. All their meals will be brought to the couple in bed, and they are only leaving for two nights. The first will be on the 12th, to attend a Valentine Gala Betkowski has been organizing at the Museum of History – more on that later – and the second night will be to go dancing at the Mercury Lounge.
“They also have a bed for us there,” Betkowski points out.
The bed-in is only one aspect of the Love and Peace exhibit. Alpha will also host a number of poets and guest speakers who will discuss love, and of course, there will be the hearts.
Sokolowski’s heart paintings are a more detailed take on his geometrical style that emphasizes colour and found objects. During the gallery’s press conference there was only one heart painting from Sokolowski’s collection on display, but promotional photos suggest the hearts will come in a wide range of sizes and colour schemes.
Although it’s easy to see hearts as kitschy, especially around Valentine’s Day, Sokolowski elevates the symbol with the gorgeous fields of colour and the found items. Each work holds an incredible collection of tiny objects from the artists’ life. There are lines of pins from a clothesline, pieces of Edith’s sewing machine, gifts from friends, comic book pages and lego men. These items are artifacts from Sokolowski’s life and many represent his connection with the people he loves.
“Every time I lose an earring the second one goes automatically on the painting,” Betkowski laughs. “I have to really watch my buttons. If I lose one before I have a chance to sew it on it’s already on a painting.”
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By adding these real pieces from his life, Sokolowski turns each painting into an autobiography, and elevates the once-stale heart symbol. Trust me, if the works start off looking kitschy at all, take a few steps closer.
Dominik Sokolowski turns 40 next month, so in celebration of the milestone, he’s painting 40 hearts. 37 of them will be up for sale in the gallery, and he’s donating three to CHEO. Those three extra paintings, which in honour of the CHEO teddy logo are named papa-bear, mama-bear and baby-bear, will be auctioned off at the Valentine Gala, with 100 per cent of the money raised going to the children’s hospital.
Organizing the non-profit gala is a big way for Betkowski to give back to CHEO. Over the last 20 years, she’s spent far too much time there. When Betkowski’s daughter was born, the girl suffered from heart failure. A serious heart surgery left her in a coma for five weeks, and she’s since had more work done on her spine and foot.
“Facing a dying child on life support, five weeks in a coma, when everyday you don’t know what’s going to happen next...you realize how fragile life is,” Betkowski says. “How quickly it can be taken away by war, by sickness.”
Although war and sickness may seem like impossible opponents, Betkowski and her husband are doing what they can to fight them next month. The fundraising gala is practical as the bed-in is idealistic, and both are worth the visit.
Tickets for the gala are $200 per person. The event will take place on February 12, three days into the Love and Peace exhibit. If you want to have a chat with Betkowski or Sokolowski you’ll be able to find them on their bed in the Alpha Art Gallery from the 10th to the 21st. You can find out more about both events at alphaartgallery.ca.
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