Review: The Art of Dissent: Adventures in London’s Olympic State 07.08.2012 by Sara Custer.
As I sat in the cozy basement of my local bookshop Hackney Pages I wasn’t sure what to expect from the presentation of The Art of Dissent: Adventures in London’s Olympic State. I went because the title intrigued me as I don’t fly my Olympic flag very high. Or at all. My cynicism of the Games perhaps affected my expectations of the evening. Would overzealous anarchists be spewing forth conspiracy theories? Would pompous artists be speaking to hear the sound of their own voices explain cryptic art theory? Or was the book merely a collection of local artists’ works lauded more for being from East London than for showing any real talent?
But when I heard Alistair Siddons begin reading his contribution “London 2012 Brand Protection: What you need to know” I knew I was among kindred spirits of Olympic skeptics, them much more capable of expressing it in words, poetry or image than I. Siddons read:
Because of the significance of the number 2012 to the words “London 2012 Olympic Games”, this number has been accorded special protection by legislation enacted in parliament on behalf of the APG. We call this “deep protection”, because it goes to the very heart of the number. The prime factorization of 2012 is 2 squared x 503. Hence, both 2 and 503, which constitute the foundation of 2012, are also protected. 2012 may also be expressed as 1500 + 8 cubed = 1500 + 512 = 2012. Accordingly the integers 8, 500, 1000 and 1500 are all protected.
In his humorous essay, Siddons cleverly captures the ludicrousness of the Olympic branding rules that saw a team of surveillance officers silence, mute and erase any sign of the Olympics that didn’t come from the official corporate sponsors.
What Siddons has in common with the rest of the artist contributors to the book is that they all acted on their gut reactions to how they saw their environments evolve after London won the Olympic bid 6 July 2005. They used their art to unveil what traditional media wasn’t willing to tell, namely the displacement of the Lea River Valley to construct the Olympic village, the unchecked power of authority bestowed to the International Olympic Committee and the organisers’ ability to at once sell a sense of Olympic ownership to Londoners while keeping them at safe distance from planning, expenses and construction.
Contributor Alberto Duman expanded on his essay “Legacy as Permanent Branding” that night. He spoke specifically about the Adizones — super branded outdoor gyms in public parks-to highlight the effect the tangible legacies will leave behind after the games. In this instance, warned Duman, a public/private partnership is paying Adidas to essentially have unlimited advertising spaces which Duman said “seem to have landed on earth from an Olympic spaceship”. A nice juxtaposition to Siddon’s more farcical approach, Duman successfully created a discussion with the audience, spurring people to share other examples of branded legacy that they had witnessed around the city.
The evening closed with two treats of fiction from poet Jude Rosen and short story writer Andrew Bailes. Both, in their own right, were heartfelt manifestations of the mix of emotions we’ve all felt when reacting to a change in our environment caused by a suspicious outside force — in this case the International Olympic Committee.
The book is a collection from more than 50 artists, thinkers, protestors and residents rounded up by editors artist Hilary Powell and social anthropologist Isaac Marrero-Guillamón. It is divided into four parts: Incursions, Excavations, Displacements and Aftermaths. Equal parts artistic, farcical and didactic, the contributions run the gamut from researched academic explanations of the public realm (Davis) to short stories about narrow boat residents (Cheung), from photographs documenting creative protests to the encompassing blue fence (Richardson) to poetry portraying the rapid refurbishment of London’s most deprived boroughs (Rosen).