As Field Study’s Man in E17 I am, like it or not, on the road, canal, footpath, cycle-path (and other byways) to 2012, a year increasingly synonymous with the Olympic Games especially so as I live in East London where the greater part of this sporting and cultural gold rush will be played out. The interesting times of late have not made making sense of this prospect any easier. Getting the right answers to reach an oasis of solipsistic calm may be an accomplishment akin to winning a fool’s gold medal. For the most part I am looking forward to the 2012 Olympic Games with a sense of dread mainly founded on doubts about London’s transport system to cope with the influx of games goers - officials, participants and spectators. I have, perhaps foolishly, entertained suspicions that Transport for London, the Olympic Delivery Authority and other agencies have a nefarious (as in wicked) interest in cultivating such a sense of misgiving in order to deter use and so achieve a desired reduction in the normal use of the transport system during the games. My job, one of the principle ‘things’ which keep me socially enfranchised, involves working out and about on the streets. I am not permitted to divulge much detail as to the work I do as this is commercially sensitive and there is also a possibility of my biting a hand which feeds me if I assert a current and distinctly iconoclastic position on the Olympics.
Back in 2005 I did however join in several demonstrations against London’s bid for the 2012 Games. One was a convergence; a flotilla of canal boats on the Lee Navigation near the Bow Back River. The photograph (above) was taken from a bridge forming part of the Bow Interchange. This location is on one of my cycling routes to work and has recently undergone a substantial transformation with the installation of a new bridge which enables cyclists and pedestrians to bypass the Bow Interchange overhead.
If the Olympic bid had been unsuccessful, what would have become of the ongoing Bow Backs redevelopment? I believe some of the objections to the redevelopment of the rivers in that area were that there would be exclusion from them and the Olympics would impose some redevelopment which would undermine or prevent potentially more beneficial developments particularly in relation to the area as a haven of environmental and social diversity. I have lost track of the precise details and findings of Freewheelers investigation into the impending restrictions on cycle routes during the Olympics; based on them I think the current ease of passage may not be so next year. As I understand the spin of Lord Coe and other Olympic figureheads, the inconveniences during the games are the necessary and justifiable price to be paid for the longer term benefits or ‘legacy’. If I find myself incarcerated (ha ha) in traffic grid lock or diverted away from cycle paths onto busy roads I am supposed to look ahead gratefully and any qualms will have been only petty and personal.
The E17 Art Trail this year, with the title, ‘On Your Marks’ is anticipating next year’s Olympic Games perhaps more creatively. It includes some artists who are directly involved in the cultural lead up to the Olympic Games. Katherine Green, along with Mark Burton, will be presenting photographs celebrating the work of local community groups. The details are here. Katherine Green also has an exhibition at View Tube - ‘Road to 2012, A Local Story’, also linked to an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG). The photographs may creatively contribute to current debates about society and community and how various constituents are represented. Katherine Green has done a lot to document the marginal and the passing - Wood Street, Walthamstow Dog Stadium e.g. The choice of a local credit union premises for the E17 Art Trail show seems apt in terms of a celebration of localism and the means by which people can participate in more genuinely local social enterprises (e.g. elsewhere in these parts, Organiclea - a workers cooperative I think). It is unlikely there could ever be a definitive view as to how genuinely philanthropic the Olympics are, with all the global corporatism, in relation to the local. Katherine Green’s portraits of young people participating in sport, some in preparation for the Olympics are (going by the promotional postcard/flyer) in stark contrast to the plethora of cctv mug shots following the recent civil disturbances. Perhaps that is a stereotyping juxtaposition to make? What I wonder is what responsibilities an artist has for the ways in which their images are used or appropriated - as well as the responsibilities the sponsors have in this representation.
If local culture is increasingly directed towards celebrating the Olympics will this constitute a journey to a mirage - ultimately an El Dorado?
Julian Beere is a bronze sponsor of the E17 Art Trail 2011