A great issue of FLIP features a review of the book by Frank Orthbandt as well as images by book contributor photographer Chris Dorley-Brown.
Coinciding with the start of the Games, this artistic anthology published by East London based Marshgate Press, documents the development of the Olympic project in east London with a focus on its connection and interaction with local communities and impact on the area’s distinct local fabric.
Hailed as a blueprint for urban regeneration, the success and legacy of London 2012 remains uncertain at this stage. From my own experience of working in the area, the Olympic Park at the eve of the event appears as a giant UFO landed in East London, fiercely protected from its surroundings with no apparent integration into the landscape or socio economic context. Nevertheless, given the amount of resources poured into this project in times of general austerity there will be strong momentum to force its success and engrain it positively into the city’s collective memory.
Amongst the intensified media hype built up around the event, this book offers a differing and dissenting point of view in the form of personal and critical reflections on the milestones of the Olympic development so far. Covering the birth of the idea through the planning and development stages, to the creation of branding and corporate identity for the global spectacle, viewpoints are represented from artists, writers, filmmakers, academics, photographers and activists. Many are residents in the affected areas and therefore respond to the project not just from a commentator’s perspective but also as directly affected individuals.
Each of the contributors challenges the consensus promoted around the Games and articulates a very individual and personal response to the project, refusing to accept the role of spectator when it comes to the transformation of parts of East London. The expressions are often subtle, melancholic or reflective and sometimes passionate, emotional and militant.
Rooted in the Olympic Arts project and the associated ‘Salon de Refuses’ held across East London and hosted by one of the co-editors of this book, the anthology benefits from its wealth of contributors. The broad selection of work here shows a democratic approach to artistic background, experience and genre and the applied mixed media approach – presenting text, photography, drawings and paintings next to each other – works extremely well. The publication’s main strength lies in the clever editing of the presented art, grouping the ‘heterogeneous assemblage’ of individual and personal expression into four distinct chapters and hence providing an overarching context guiding the reader.
These chapters broadly follow the timeline and common themes of the Olympic development path, capturing its economic and political architecture, reflecting on the redevelopment of the Lower Lea Valley subjected to a strong rhetoric for regeneration to give a non-economic justification for the project, and documenting the construction of the Olympic Park itself.
As you would imagine with such a large and diverse selection of works, you may not agree with all the views and concepts presented, however purely from a visual perspective the book offers a wealth of interesting content. LIP member Chris Dorley-Brown’s images document historic changes in Hackney Wick and he shares a diary of his experiences of photographing in the area during the building phase. Gesche Wuerfel participates with her amazing images of the Lower Lea Valley before its redevelopment, offering valuable historic documents created in the knowledge of imminent destruction. Other notable contributors from London’s photographic scene are Polly Braden, Alessandra Chila and Stephen Gill.