Wednesday, July 8, 2015

'Judgement' at arebyte Gallery, 7th July 2015

Surrounded by cranes, shorn of floodlights and apparently devoid of life, the London Olympic Stadium has become the centre of a ghost town. Its neighbours, the velopark and aquatics centre, are generally closed to visitors, park paths are punctuated by steel mesh barriers and the sculpted greenery brings to mind an abandoned golf course. Colossal pedestrian boulevards; once funnels for thousands of happy Olympic spectators now host only the occasional lost Westfield shopper and steadily diminishing numbers of curious tourists. Looming over it all stands the skeletal Orbit, now less like a celebration of British architecture and more like a memorial to happier days.

There are, of course, big plans for the stadium. After much legal kerfuffle, West Ham football club are to be its new tenants, hopefully ushering in a new sense of purpose and atmosphere to this increasingly sterile place. But what's to be done in the meantime? After all, nature abhors a vacuum. This is where Ariel Narunsky steps in; proposing a gigantic piece of artwork to occupy the stadium.

This is Judgment: a spiral running track enveloped by walls, sending visitors through a 6000m long corridor that ends with them proceeding down into the earth and through a tunnel. Making your way through the thing looks like a pretty unrewarding (albeit hypnotic) experience, roughly akin to being a rat stuck in a maze. But even a rat gets a piece of cheese at the end, visitors to this end up unceremoniously squirted out somewhere south of Victoria Park.

The exhibition imagines what a visitors centre for this construction would be like. Played completely straightfaced, it behaves as if this enormous proposal has been accepted and will soon undergo construction. With sans serif corporate font, colour coordinated businessquirky orange and cosy sofa-based infomercial watching, the atmosphere is cool, controlled professionalism.

Judgement is a curious mix of the corporate and absurd; the project would require the decommercialisation of a hugely expensive piece of London real estate, one already subject to much legal quibbling. It'd also mean the construction of a tunnel bored right through the rat's nest of subterranean London. All for a piece of art that seems purposely designed to dehumanise, bore and antagonise those within. 

The back of the glossy programme lists the corporate sponsors of Narunsky's project; including the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Balfour Beatty, the building company in charge of the redevelopment of the park. After examining every carefully laid out display in the exhibit; the posters bleating stentorian gobbledegook like "An Unknown Game with Ultimate Things" or "New Things Are Near"; the promotional video that draws parallels between Roman gladiatorial games designed to distract an unruly populace and the chic 3D printed models I began to wonder - do these companies realise they're being made fun of?

To my eyes Judgement is a multi-levelled satire; taking aim at the worth of sports, egotistical design and authoritarian architecture. The idea of a pointless leg and mind numbing running track subverts the original idea of the stadium, boiling back its purpose until all the grandiosity has disappeared to reveal people fruitlessly running in circles. 

Narunsky's rat's maze design, from which deviation is neither tolerated or possible, neatly echoes the Queen Elizabeth Park's winding paths that subtly manipulate the visitor through a predetermined route. There are no great walls in the Olympic Park, but the slightest sense of adventurousness will (and I'm speaking from personal experience) herald the arrival of a black-painted and logo-clad Audi estate driven by unfriendly men in hi-vis jackets pointedly asking what it is you're up to.

Similarly, the sheer scale of the project is calculated to intimidate and impress. Public art on this scale is, rightly or wrongly, criticised as an act of ego by both those commissioning and designing. There's an almost aggressive desire to leave your fingerprints on the urban landscape, to mould the public experience around your vision. In it's spiral design and oval shape, Judgement recalls that very fingerprint - as if a 10 mile tall Narunsky has bent down and pressed his thumb into the soft stadium floor.

It's a neat, slyly subversive exhibition, one that adopts the aesthetic and tone of corporate art so fully that its been embraced by the very people it's mocking. Worth checking out.

Judgement is at arebyte Gallery until 7th August. Details here.

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