artists and athletes of to-morrow

Yesterday I went with my roommate Neil to the Hackney Wicked festival.  It was in a neighborhood called Hackney Wick (hence the title), which is an area to the east of victoria park that mostly consists in warehouses and factories, now disused, many of which have apparently become art studios.  You know how it is.  The festival was basically a big open studios event covering several of these warehouses, plus music and food and some events along the way.   I liked one of these warehouses that was called “The Peanut Factor,” because it is a peanut factory, still.  It has been quite warm of late (ie. 80 degrees!  no rain!  only 40%-60% cloud cover!), so it was nice sunday to be out and about.

As for the art itself…well, you know, open studios.  And Sally the open studios duck would like you to reserve judgment.

Weren’t expecting that, were you?  Hm, well, there were some interesting things as well, especially in the photography and video department.  As these things go, it was more of an excuse for people to drink in the sun and have a good time.  Good times also meant a Coracle Regatta, which involves racing impractically shaped boats across a canal.  Coracles come from the celts, and maybe they were better at rowing them than the woman who, in attempting to secure third place, fell into the canal.  This is quite unhealthy, I beleive.

Hackney Wick is right next to be what used to be a stretch of basically unused land.  Perhaps it had an industrial use some time ago.  Anyway this stretch of land is now quite in use: it’s the 2012 olympic park.  Before I came here, the Olympics were not really on my radar.  I remember when London outbid Paris for the games, and seeing people cheering somewhat irrationally.  I never quite understood why a city, especially a major metropolis like London, would want an Olympic games, unless there was already a stadium that could be used.  London, however, is building the entire Olympic site – stadium, track, swimming area, Olympic village, etc.

What I realized when I came here is that this is very much the focal point of London right now.  Not spatially; more that the city’s energy, if you will, is sort of oriented toward the event (‘temperature’ seems to be the idiom here, though not commonly used).  There is a kind of nervous tension around the games.  The games, or really the park itself, seems to represent something about contemporary London.

The site is in East London, an area that in 60 years has been: a bombed out working class neighborhood,  a gateway  for immigrants, a forgotten, post-industrial economically-depressed zone (which it still is), cheap housing for middle class artists and the like, and now, all those, plus the sites of banks and major corporations.  The body in charge of this latest change is the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODL), whose motto is likewise representative of the unwitting honesty of developers: Demolish. Dig. Design.

The Olympic site itself is attached to what will be the largest shopping center in Europe.   I still don’t really understand how a site that will be used for four weeks, then be closed for a full year after the Olympics while the city decides what to do with it could be a catalyst for urban “regeneration,” but apparently it is.  The power of synchronized swimming, I suppose.

The park is under construction and completely gated off, which fairly tight security.  What’s interesting to me, is that the same condition – unused, industrial space – that allows for the profusion of artists and architects working and making ‘pop up‘ projects in this area is what makes the place also ideal for more upscale development, which has already begun.  I suppose that’s obvious, and yet maybe not obvious enough, since the area’s ‘edgy’ , artsy reputation has been specifically encouraged by developers as a way to increase the value and cachet of the area (they don’t hide this in any way).

A few weeks ago I saw author Iain Sinclair speak.  Sinclair is seemingly quite popular right now,  which is befitting for a calmly manic chronicler of east london and anti-Olympic polemicist (perhaps of dubious credibility).  This is most manifest in his latest work, Ghost Milk, which I’m now reading.  His writing at parts is a little too reminiscent of the excesses of beat-gen writing, but at least he has nothing to be optimistic about.  And he evokes the way the stadium, in many ways, is dredging up London’s buried industrial history:

You could not nominate, in all of a London, more challenging ground for a landscape blitz, a ticking-clock assault on the devastated residue of industrial history: insecticide and fertilizer works, paint factories, distillers of gin, gas mantel manufactures, bone grinders, importers of fish-mush, seething dunes of radian maggots.  Waste: dumped, buried.  Disturbed. Distributed…

The Olympic Park was a newsreel of the fall of Berlin run backwards…what remains in these ravished topographies is a category of war-zone architecture: concrete bunkers, electrified fences, unexplained posts, burnt-out warehouses, stripped woodland, fouled water.  Grand Project development is accidental  archeology.  A séance with future ruins.

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