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Artists taking the lead: 12 projects for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad

Conceived as ‘Wow’ factor commissions, embedding community involvement, creating cultural imagery and memorable moments for an activated public, Artists taking the lead is the UK Arts Councils’ flagship project for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. £500,000 has been given to each of twelve public art commissions, for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and nine regions of the UK, to help celebrate the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. After two decades of approaching art as social engineering and political and civic regeneration programmes this is likely to be the last major public art project on such a scale as priorities, processes and artists’ ambitions move on.

East: Suffolk-raised artist Robert Pacitti is developing a series of large-scale, public outdoor events exploring notions of ‘home’, that will contribute to a feature film, On Landguard Point, to be premiered in the Spring of 2012. Collaborators include the composer Michael Nyman and choreographer Wayne McGregor. Local people can get involved as participants and audiences, including brass bands, free runners, show offs, crafts folk, wannabes, cooks, and kite flyers. The entire project is being run as a training ground for young people, developing hands-on training in music, dance, filmmaking and event management skills. http://www.onlandguardpoint.com/

East Midlands: Shauna Richardson’s Lionheart Project features three giant hand-crocheted lions. The realistic textile sculptures recreate Richard the Lionheart’s three lions crest using locally sourced Swaledale wool, celebrating the region’s rich textile heritage. The lion structures are sculpted out of polystyrene and set around steel skeletons.  In 2012, they will travel around the East Midlands in a 16-metre long and 4-metre high custom-built glass exhibition vehicle before moving on to London.  http://www.lionheartproject.com

London: Alfie Dennen and Paula Le Bieu’s Bus-Tops will be a public art installation on the roofs of bus shelters across London. LED panels will become canvases showcasing digital commissions by a range of established artists. The public will be able to submit and view artwork through various mediums including website and mobile applications.  http://bus-tops.com/

North-East: FLOW, by the Owl Project (Simon Blackmore, Antony Hall and Steve Symons) and Ed Carter, is an environmentally sustainable floating water-wheel for the River Tyne. More Steampunk workshop than hi-tech laboratory the FLOW millhouse and interactive artspace / workshop will encompass a range of Owl Project instruments responding to environmental details, such as water temperature and speed, pollution and salinity. Powered by the tidal river and manipulated by the audience, FLOW is in effect a musical instrument that processes water into energy, information and sound. The piece will generate its own power, and use sustainably-sourced materials throughout its construction.

North West: Anthony McCall’s Column will form a spiraling column of cloud 20 metres in diameter rising from the surface of the water in Merseyside into the sky. Visible on a clear day from up to 100km away, the column will disappear and re-appear in slow structured sequences. http://www.anthonymccall.com/

South-East: The Boat Project by Lone Twin (Gregg Whelan and Gary Winters) asked people in the South East to donate a wooden object of personal significance – pencil, dining table, or the garden shed. The recovered wood will be used in the building of a sea-faring boat, made by professional boat builder and silver medal winning sailor Mark Covell. The boat will make a maiden ‘Olympic’ voyage in 2012, becoming the focus of celebratory arts events across the region. http://www.theboatproject.com/

South-West: Alex Hartley will journey to the Arctic to retrieve a portion of an island, which he will sail into international waters, where it will become a visiting micronation. Nowhereisland is a large-scale, island sculpture that will embark upon a 702 mile coastal journey around the south west region of England stopping at ports and harbours, from Weymouth, at the opening of the Olympic Games on 25 July 2012, to Bristol for the finale of the Cultural Olympiad on 9 September 2012. Alex Hartley discovered Nowhereisland in 2004 whilst on a Cape Farewell artists’ expedition. The island had been revealed from the melting ice of a retreating glacier in the High Arctic, and the artist was the first human to ever stand on it. With the help of the Norwegian Polar Institute he registered and named the island, which is now included on all subsequent maps and charts. http://nowhereisland.org/

West Midlands: Imagineer Productions, an independent company that produce large-scale outdoor events, carnival and site specific theatre will create Godiva awakes. A theatrical Lady Godiva will appear as a 10 metre-high carnival puppet and moving, breathing monument, dressed in a coat crafted by local artists, and complemented by undergarments designed by fashion designer Zandra Rhodes. On the last day of Coventry’s Godiva Festival in July 2012, powered by 50 cyclists, Godiva will leave the city and journey to London in a spectacular performance involving 2,000 dancers, actors, aerialists, musicians, pyrotechnicians and carnivalists.

Yorkshire: The Brothers Quay will lead Leeds Canvas, involving Leeds artists and arts organisations – a partnership between Opera North, Northern Ballet Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Phoenix Dance Theatre, Yorkshire Dance, Leeds Met Gallery and Studio Theatre, Situation Leeds, Leeds City Council, and Leeds Art Gallery. The people, streets, arcades and water flowing through the city are the source of the  project – a month-long series of interventions and art ambushes, incorporating film, music and movement, culminating in spectacular events under the dark arches and in the city centre arcades in 2012. Leeds Canvas will then become an art event reappearing every four years.

Northern Ireland: Nest is a project by Dumbworld (lead artists – composer Brian Irvine and filmmaker/director John McIlduff), which invites the people of Northern Ireland to create art on a massive scale through the simple act of donating an object. Items will be collected from towns and villages and attached to a baggage label illustrating how they are connected to their donor. The objects will then be catalogued and assembled into a gigantic creation in Belfast by a team of artists and designers. The resulting structure will become the focal point for a large-scale music and choral event in 2012, composed, written and directed by Brian Irvine and John McIlduff – inspired and performed by the people of Northern Ireland. With thousands of objects and hundreds of singing voices and musicians, Nest will be a far reaching, all embracing, sonic and sculptural landscape that examines and questions relationships between people and the things that we surround ourselves with –  the things from which we make our own nests.

Scotland: Craig Coulthard’s Forest Pitch will create a full size football pitch hidden within a forest. Commercial trees felled to make space for the pitch will be used to create goalposts, a shelter and other infrastructure on site. The pitch will host two football matches in 2012, made up of amateurs from around Scotland who have taken up British citizenship since 2000. Spectators will be invited to represent the players’ families and the local community, and the intervals between matches will be filled with performances and music forming a unique sporting and artistic event. After the games, the site will be left to grow back naturally, with some native species replanted to encourage a more diverse environment. The shelter will remain as a simple documentation space and observation point, to witness the gradual reclamation of the pitch by the natural world. http://www.forestpitch.org/about.html

Wales: Marc Rees is one of Wales’ leading practitioners of contemporary performance and installation. Adain Avion is a mobile art space created from the wreckage of a DC-9 airplane, discovered and transformed by Spanish sculptor and designer Eduardo Cajal. In the summer of 2012, Marc Rees will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Avion by touring the object across Wales to Swansea, Ebbw Vale, Llanddudno and Llandow (for the National Eisteddfod of Wales). At each site a programme of cultural community-based activities curated by Rees will welcome the plane. http://www.r-i-p-e.co.uk/

The winning commissions were funded by Arts Council England in partnership with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Creative Scotland and the Arts Council of Wales.

Images: Alex Hartley, Nowhereisland, Credit: Clint Randall; Shauna Richardson, Lionheart Project; Anthony McCall, Column; Imagineer Productions, concept drawing for Godiva awakes; Marc Rees, Adain Avion; Craig Coulthard, Forest Pitch Possible Line-ups (Felt tip on graph paper).


About jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space


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