Hackney Citizen review July 2012

Off messages from the Olympics opposition

By Sarah Birch. Hackney Citizen

This new collection of critical writings about the Olympic Games celebrates a variety of local responses to and protests against London 2012 as Sarah Birch discovers

The Art of Dissent: Adventures in London’s Olympic State is a collection of writings and images designed to challenge mainstream understandings of the 2012 Olympic Games. With contributions from over 60 artists, writers and academics, this volume represents a kaleidoscopic mix of genres and approaches.

Though the contributions are almost universally critical of the Games the volume nevertheless retains a resolutely up-beat feel as it charts the various ways in which artists and activists have thrown off the role of passive observer to which the official discourse of the Games relegates them and instead engaged in an active re-figuring of the various meanings ascribed to notions such as ‘security’. ‘sport’, ‘East End’, etc.

The contributors are a heterogeneous mix of well-known local fixtures on the cultural scene such as Iain Sinclair, Laura Oldfield-Ford and Stephen Gill as well as unsung local residents who have been moved by the upheaval they have witnessed to react, each in their own way. The tone of the collection is provocative but also playful. Especially noteworthy contributions include co-editor Isaac Marrero-Guillamon’s ‘Olympic State of Exception’, Stephen Cornford’s photographs and accompanying text from ‘Trespassing the Olympic Site’ series,  Juliette Adair’s ‘Athletes to Zucchini: An A-Z for Manor Garden Allotments’ and Oliver Wainwright’s ‘Beyond the Park: The Olympic Legacy that is Already Here.’ Though there is some overlap between entries that might occasionally annoy, the diversity of the dissident take on the 2012 Games can also be seen as another way of undermining the notion that there is only one way of seeing. In short, this is a must-read for anyone who has ever mused on whether the Olympics were such a great thing after all.

Published and printed in Hackney, it is a welcome reassertion of local voice amid the cacophony of corporate ‘2012’ messaging. Yet this is also a major work of documentation and analysis that is surely bound to have far-reaching resonance for cultural critics and commentators beyond the borough’s boundaries.