Olympic censorship: Fight, for your right, to be arty
With each day that we creep through the Olympics, I feel more and more like I am in a chapter of Orwell’s classic, 1984. Over in the heart of the Olympic village there is a long tunnel, plastered in McDonald’s iconography, guiding you towards the largest McDonald’s in history. Surely in 1984, this would be the Ministry of Health.
Just as the state orders society in Orwell’s dystopian 1984, we find that during the games that the state has taken total control of our lives. Under the pretence of protecting sponsors’ rights, we are told we cannot buy any old chips or beer within the official Olympic site, display anything in a shop that resembles five rings or use every day words in marketing our products. I would argue that the huge military and police presence is there, not to protect from some unknown terrorist attack, but to quash any counter resistance to these limitations on our lives.
However, anyone who knows a little about the history of the games would not find these sudden manifestations of state power surprising. Today the Olympic torch is widely recognised as an enduring reference to the Ancient Olympics, where legend has it Prometheus stole a beacon of fire from the Greek god Zeus. Be that the case or not, the flame as we know it can be far more realistically attributed to two German propagandists, Theodor Lewald and Carl Diem, who recognised the flame’s potential to symbolically link the Third Reich with ancient Athenian rule. The German manufacturing company, Krupp, which created, produced and sponsored the torch, went on to rapidly expand, subsequently diversifying into machine gun manufacture.
Rumour also has it that it was Leni Riefenstahl, the German film producer that documented Hitler’s rise to power, that popularised the five rings as a symbol of the games. Although originally designed by Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the IOC, Riefenstahl had the rings chiselled onto the temple at Delphi, further emphasising the Games’ origins and connecting Hitler’s Germany with this source of ancient civilisation.
This brings us swiftly to another lesson we can take from Olympic history. Many people are now familiar with the famous black power salute given by American athletes at the 1968 Mexican games. Like an image of Che Guevara, it has become a symbol of resistance. It seems to evoke the idea that this was the year the Olympic Games got radical; that as a society we had moved on from barbarianism and were ready to embrace liberality even at this most public of events.
Nevertheless, as with every coin, there are two sides to this story. Far fewer people remember that 10 days before the Mexican games were due to start, the government shot and killed a group of students protesting against the hardship of their lives and the money spent on the Games. There are no official records of those killed, estimates vary from 40 – 2,000 – but most agree that around 200 students were murdered.
Although the media and the IOC boss at the time, Avery Brundage, claimed the killings had nothing to do with the ‘non-political’ Olympics, anecdotal evidence records the student chants:
“¡No queremos olimpiadas, queremos revolución!” or, “We don’t want Olympics, we want revolution!”
So history indicates that athletics and politics are endlessly and irrevocably intertwined; that if you scratch below the gloss on the official Olympic Games they are, and will most likely continue to be, riddled with decay.
As an artist, I believe that the greatest opportunity to challenge the status quo is through art and culture. For this reason I have created a series of Olympic ceramics that re-envisage the official merchandise in order to add a little context. I have re-fired those shiny official cups and plates, drawing attention to the global destruction caused by sponsoring parties and the unnecessary militarisation of London. At least my work can be said to be made in England, a level of authenticity I doubt the actual cups can lay claim to.
Grayson Perry once famously said, “One of the great things about ceramics is that it is not shocking… I can be as outrageous as I like here, because the vice squad is never going to raid a pottery exhibition’.” The vice squad maybe not, a platoon of angry anti-terror officers- I’m not so sure.
So I wonder what will become of me over the next few days and weeks. Perhaps I will fall foul of Olympic rule, have my ceramics removed from my studio and a court order slapped on my head. However of one thing you may be certain; short of our further dissent into an Orwellian tableau and my capture by the Thought Police, I will continue to fight for my right to be arty.Tagged in: 1984, george orwell, London 2012, olympics, sponsorship
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