From this April, venues and arts organisations in the South East are taking part in an ambitious act of collaboration. RELAY is a series of artworks intended to celebrate the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games..
Taking up the theme, arts organisations across the South East have commissioned work that rolls out in sequence across the region, from Fabrica in Brighton, moving to Aspex Gallery in Portsmouth, on to MK Gallery in Milton Keynes, to Modern Art Oxford until it reaches the Turner Contemporary in Margate and Stour Valley Arts in Ashford.
On the one hand, it is an initiative in the spirit of the Olympic year; a diverse group of organisations from Blast Theory to the Creative Campus Initiative coming together to create art in a new way. On the other, it raises the question. Could also provide a model for future collaboration and commissioning – not just in the South East, but across the UK?
With no central commissioning network, RELAY is about a cluster of organisations responding to a single theme. Artistically, that makes the programme diverse. Some artworks, like Simon Pope’s film Memory Marathon, tackle the Olympic subject matter head on. In the film, Pope walks the 26 mile marathon route for the 2012 Olympics, talking to local East Enders about their memories of past Olympics. John Gerrard’s Exercise (Djibouti), 2012 explores links between competition and agression and ideas of mass entertainment in the 21st century. Even with Richard Wilson’s witty Hang On A Minute Lads, I’ve Got An Idea… you can detect links between the bigger competition and the carefully balanced bus, dangling over emptiness.
It’s harder to make that direct thematic link to works like The Otolith Group’s I See an Infinite Distance Between Any Point and Another , the film of Etal Adnan reading her poem The Sea. Or John Smith’s Horizon (Five Pounds and a Belgian). But perhaps the advantage of this cluster-based commissioning is that it does not attempt to shoehorn artworks into a single curated thematic jacket.
Michael Stanley of Modern Art Oxford suggests, in an interview with Frame and Reference, that this might be a strength. “I always remember a conversation with George Shaw who said if you put three or four artists in a room you’re going to find thematics that connect them… I think it’s interesting as an experiment, throwing something out there. You get a number of clusters developing projects that are about this time, of this time, with artists that are of this time. If you’d started with a very didactic programmatic approach, maybe you wouldn’t have got that.”
Because of its diversity RELAY requires a kind of openness, not only from the audience, but more radically also from the organisations themselves. In an age of connectedness, how connected are RELAY’s participants willing to be? Ultimately, what will be interesting is to see is how much venues are willing to present their what they do as being part of a larger whole..
I See Infinite Distance Between Any Point and Another / The Otolith Group
14 April – 27 May
Sea of Voices / Invisible Flock
5 May – 27 May
Commissioned by Fabrica, Blast Theory, Lighthouse, Photoworks, University of Brighton Faculty of Arts and Brighton Festival
A Hundred Seas Rising / Suki Chan
10 May – 2 September
Exercise (Djibouti) 2012 / John Gerrard
6 July – 29 July
Modern Art Oxford
(Five Pounds and a Belgian) / John Smith
1 – 17 June
Artist in residence at Stoke Mandeville / Stian Ådlandsvik
27 June – 29 July
Marks, Measures, Maps and Mind / Dog Kennel Hill Project
25 – 27 August
Turner Contemporary Commission at King’s Wood
Hang on a Minute Lads, I’ve Got an Idea… / Richard Wilson
7 July – 1 October
Memory Marathon / Simon Pope
John Hansard Gallery City Centre Space
10 – 21 July
Gold Run and The Bow Porcelain installation by Bouke de Vries
Pallant House Gallery