On being won over by the Cultural Olympiad...
The heats have been run and we're on the last leg of the London 2012 Festival. Has it been worth it? What's to come? And why am I feeling so pleased about it all?
I found myself quite proud of my country (a phrase I never thought I would say, or want to say, St George's flag connotations upstanding) while watching the opening ceremony last week and watching the letters NHS lit up like a beacon, and a ramshackle, ingenious spectacle beamed out to the world in total opposition to the synchronized efficiency of Beijing.
That moment was the culmination of a growing sense of what I think can only be called pride (dare I say it), about not only having the Olympics here in my home city but Ruth Mackenzie's huge Cultural Olympiad exercise. Early excitement about a massive series of quality art events (from the brilliant to the small-scale) was tempered by accusations of empty posturing and it being a foil for more important corporate interests. These may indeed be apt, but (and it may have something to do with a start-of-the-games thrill) I can't help feeling proud about the cultural stuff, too.
The Owl & the Pussycat with a Terry Jones libretto graces London canals, courtesy of London 2012
The official line is partly that the Cultural Olympiad and its climax, the London 2012 Festival will score heavily on accessibility and inclusively by bringing many free, exciting and sometimes participatory events to people and places they might not otherwise reach.
There is a potential ‘happy-clappy' factor (as our blogger Jeremy Hunt says) to a certain strand of the Olympiad. Paul Morley also eloquently summarized the lacklustre ‘art by committee' quality of some of its output, in a discussion on last week's Culture Show about, among other things, short films by Mike Leigh, Lynne Ramsay and others - didn't they just shoehorn sporty themes into works they would never have made anyway? In a misunderstanding between a fellow panelist he identified the need, in good art, for single artists' voices to shine through (Danny Boyle's pretty idiosyncratic ceremony I would argue being a case in point).
All of this is more than founded, not to mention the whole thing is (inevitably?) sprawling, difficult to navigate and might not be everyone's cup of tea.
Shakespeare's everywhere: Timon of Athens is part of his World festival
The Rio State Secretary of Culture, Adriana Rattes, at a London 2012 Festival press briefing this morning identified what she's been most impressed by on her visit to the capital accompanying the Rio Occupation London art event. In answer she said that it has highlighted to her how culture can effectively act as a real link between not only people, but countries. So far, so bland. Or is it?
Rio Occupation London features 30 emerging artists (including a band of artist-chefs) and climaxes this week in Bermondsey. Photo: Ratao Diniz
Last week I read an article in the London Evening Standard about just how rich, unusual and important some of the cross-disciplinary, cross-organisational collaborations have been. That goes for the international collaborations too. It may tick every box in the politically correct, state-led public benefit checklist, but this stuff really is a big deal. Top artists and leaders in every artistic field are here working with their UK counterparts (and the public).
Ballet and art join forces in Metamorphosis: Titian 2012
Just as with the sport to which I have been glued in an unprecedented way, dissecting athletes/ official kits/ terminology with anyone who will let me, there is something going on this summer that goes beyond the idea of special in terms of quality and quantity. There is something great about the ethos of the Olympic Truce and the multicultural bonanza idea. Just as with the sport, the Cultural Olympiad and culture in general (as well as beauty and ideas) is about people, how we understand our lives and others', and how we share it all and relate to each other.
There is a lot more going on all around the country for the next six weeks. I suggest you get to some of it.
Check in to CultreCritic tomorrow for a guide to the rest of the festival.
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