Olympic Art: Official vs unofficial and is culture really being championed in 2012..?
The Velvet Underground and Seurat both pop up in some of the art created for the Olympic site. But is it any good (not to mention how much did it all cost?), and what will happen once the games are over? Jeremy Hunt of AAJ Press checks it out for us...
Words: Jeremy Hunt
The fireworks and opening and closing ceremonies will cost over £80m, while the security budget has climbed to over £553million. The 40 art commissions within the Art in the Park cost £11million. Commissioned by the Arts and Culture team within the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) they were mostly appropriated from within existing construction budgets but included £2m from Arts Council England.
The Art in Park programme is understated – aside from the large and visible RUN sculpture by Monica Bonvicini, it consists of integral projects and subtle interventions, temporary engagements, films, installations and events. The Art in the Park concept aimed to create a palimpsest of activity with 24 permanent commissions to become part of the post-Olympic site as Ozymandian signs and indicators for future generations.
Monica Bonvicini: RUN
RUN is a flagship sculpture, which appears to have the conceptual subtlety of a giant hammer thrumming on your head. According to Bonvicini the image has musical references to ‘Running Dry' by Neil Young and ‘Run Run Run', by the Velvet Underground; the former a typical cry of ‘Youngian' lovelorn misery and the latter concerned with recreational drug use. So maybe the work contains a subversive element that makes the work more interesting. Three, 9-metre high glass and stainless steel letters form the word RUN, appearing as a mirror during the day, and transparent at night illuminated with internal LEDs.
Get as away far as you can...
Neville Gabie: Artist in Residence
Neville Gabie's residency from October 2010-December 2011 responded to the activity of the site workers to tell the intriguing stories of the people working in the Park and explore the cultural past of the site itself. Using the concept of measurement, volume, time, and distance, he developed a series of projects. He sat on every one of the 80,000 seats in the stadium; a film ‘Twelve Seventy' recorded Semra Yusuf, a Turkish bus driver who he enabled to make a 1,270-metre swim in the Olympic pool (the same distance as her bus route); a photographic recreation of Georges Seurat's painting, Bathers at Asnières called Freeze Frame, that posed workers to create echoes with the site's industrial past. His final Olympics-related project, The Greatest Distance, is entirely self-generated: ‘At precisely 7.30 - 10.30 PM [British Summer Time] on July 27th 2012, the moment of the Opening Ceremony for the 2012 London Olympic Games, Neville Gabie intends to be as far away as possible.'
Julius Popp: Bit.fall
There is a high literary content to the Art in the Park. Bit.fall consists of words in waterfalls under a bridge in a continuous cascade of random words chosen from live news feeds. In the wrong hands it could become an Orwellian nightmare of verbal instruction, as the words reflect repeated and popular media use.
Jason Bruges Studio: Fast Faster Fastest
Art is integral to the Olympic Park and the undersides of the bridges are painted in Olympian shades. Fast, Faster, Fastest is an interactive artwork on a bridge that allows visitors to test themselves against the pace of the times of the fastest male and female athletes for the 100-metre sprints by pressing a button to select a race from the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and chasing a light between beacons, which stand 100m apart. After the London 2012 Games, visitors can chase the light as it flashes across the bridge responding to the sprint times for LO2012.
Winning Words integrates temporary and permanent poetry installations in the Olympic Park by adding poetry to walls and surfaces. Caroline Bird's ‘The Fun Palace' is a poem about the life and work of Joan Littlewood who ran the Theatre Royal in Stratford and promoted the idea of ‘The Fun Palace', a conceptual arts and education centre designed by Cedric Price in the 1960s.
Lemn Sissay's ‘Sparkcatchers' is etched into a wooden structure surrounding an electricity transformer, and was inspired by the story of the 1888 matchgirls' strike at the Bryant and May match factory, which was once on the edge of the Olympic Park.
Further poems are by Carol Ann Duffy, Jo Shapcott, and John Burnside The last line of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem ‘Ulysses' is engraved on a wall in the Olympic Village: ‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.'
The Salon de Refuse Olympique
Once the Olympic family has moved on, the strongest images of the games may be found in the interventions of the cultural fringe. Illegal and subversive projects around the site were a preliminary to the games. These included graffiti, temporary viewing platforms, GPS gatherings, 'blue' movies - films suitable for family viewing projected on the blue painted barrier walls of the site, which were usually swiftly interrupted and removed by zealous security. A 15-minute film 'The Games', presents an alternative democratic Olympics with sports including hub-cap discus throwing and mattress trampolining. A publication, The Art of Dissent: Adventures in London's Olympic State, by Hilary Powell and Isaac Marrero-Guillamon is the perfect LO2012 souvenir.
Cheap Spaces, with Better Cafés
Though The Art in the Park strategy majors on enhancing lives and participatory experience, the opportunity for national aggrandizement, together with budgets and deficits estimated between £9 and £12 billion, seems to sit in opposition to impoverished (east) Londoners leading lives of quiet desperation, while watching global media and banking implode then carry on as usual.
The world is littered with the architectural tumbleweed of cultural EXPOs, and the UK has a festival legacy of such sites, dotted around the country like bad teeth, with the archaeological remains of the 1951 Festival of Britain, 1980s Garden Festivals and the Millennium Dome. The Olympics is a short-term consumer global media festival and the art and architecture of LO2012 reflects the dominance of macho corporate management and the forces of mass nationalism.
The legacy for the future Queen Elizabeth II Park is on plan, and appears to be an infill of 35,000 Ikea-style workers flats for mortgage laden financial services staff with 20% reserved for the London gastarbeiter industries, which might be shortsighted.
But the London Legacy Development Corporation is planning a cultural programme towards 2016 including an Open Air Art School in Tower Hamlets, and the medium-term legacy for artists working in the east London cultural fringes is quite positive, as it will be decades (if ever), before the place turns into Hoxton, which means a vibrant temporary environment, cheapish spaces to live and work, and better cafés.
Click here to read Jeremy Hunt's guide to Olympic Architecture.
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