Great Lengths 2012

As Artist in Residence at the Olympic Park Neville Gabie looked to tell the stories of the army of people who helped make the London 2012 Olympics happen.

Unearthed
9.58 video stills

Now these stories have been brought together in a new book, Great Lengths 2012, which shows him to be, in the words of Sarah Weir, former head of arts and culture at the Olympic Delivery Authority ‘an objective observer of places undergoing change’.

Analysing his film 9.58, Gabie asks ‘How many thousands have worked on this site and will in future; in essence for one highly prized moment, the running of the 100m sprint. Millions of working hours for ten precious seconds.’

The answer is distilled into 9.58 seconds – the same time as Usain Bolt’s 100m sprint record – in a composite film made up of 239 stills of the faces of the people building the stadium.

Freeze Frame final image
Twelve Seventy

Numbers, scale and endeavour are the running theme in all of the works. Twelve Seventy, another film, saw Semra Yusuf, a site bus driver on the Olympic Park swim the length of the bus route she normally drives in the newly completed London 2012 pool – a distance of 1,270m.

Unearthed
Twelve Seventy

 Meanwhile Gabie, in a similar feat of endurance, performed A Volume of Water Drunk in the Olympic Pool for You – a stunt presumably designed to in some way display the voluminous capacity of the 2,500,000 litres of water in the aquatics centre.

A Volume of Water Drunk in the Olympic Pool for You
A Volume of Water Drunk in the Olympic Pool for You

To do this he drunk 18.5 litres of water in 17.5 hours and 37 minutes, over three days in the then empty pool from 22-24 February 2011.

Every Seat in The Stadium is a similar idea, but possibly the most underwhelming of Gabbie’s works.

Every Seat in the Stadium
Every Seat in the Stadium

Between May and September 2011 Gabie spent 69 hours attempting to sit in all 69,000 seats that then fitted into the Olympic stadium and managed 40,000 of them.

It’s a feat that sounds like a Guinness world record attempt, and although the pictures which were drawn from it demonstrate a sense of scale, it comes across as a stunt born out of stubborn determination.

One of the most powerful pieces Gabie completed during his tenure was Unearthed: The Creative Remains of a Brownfield site: An exhibition of the Carpenters Road artists’ studios in the former Yardley’s Perfume Factory.

A Volume of Water Drunk in the Olympic Pool for You
Unearthed

Gabie was first introduced to the Olympic Park site when people were telling him it was a ‘derelict wasteland’ or ‘brownfield site’ – language which he says showed ‘nothing positive, nothing creative, nothing desirable could have possibly flourished here’.

A little digging led him to the realisation that the site included a disused paint factory, which in 1987 he used to work from, and nearby – also on the site – what would have been the art collective ACME’s HQ, a premises which was the former Yardley’s site.

A Volume of Water Drunk in the Olympic Pool for You
Unearthed

The studios closed in 2011 displacing its 500 artists. Former inhabitants including Grayson Perry and Simon Edmondson were all represented in a show which paid tribute to the buildings – now long gone – the artists, and their works.

In many ways it’s the perfect exhibition in the context of legacy and the Olympics’ arts and culture remit.

The participatory nature of his work is best summed up in Freeze Frame, an image choreographed and photographed on 2 June 2011, uses the River Lea in the Olympic park as a stage for a recreation of George Seurat’s 1884 painting Baithers at Asnières.

Georges Seurat, 1859-1891, Bathers at Asnieres 1884
Georges Seurat, 1859-1891, Bathers at Asnieres 1884

It places security staff, engineers, designers, and gardeners working on the park as its subjects.

Gabie says that beyond some physical similarities between the two scenes he saw political parallels.

‘France embracing the republic, an urban public park populated by workers, factories in the background, the economic drivers of the nineteenth century. Compare that to a post industrial landscape using sport and leisure to reinvent itself, described as the new ‘park for the people’ in East London,’ says  Gabie.

Freeze Frame final image
Freeze Frame final image

Gabie’s two year tenure as Olympic park artist in residence came to a close in June 2010 with Jump, a simple intervention, which saw three timber building site hoardings of 2.4 meters – their standard height – raised to 2.45 meters, the high jump world record distance jumped by Javier Sotomayer.

Freeze Frame final image
Jump

Faced with a temporal event Gabie has created a series of works which link the enormous human effort that went into the planning, construction and delivery of the Olympics, to the unprecedented human achievement of Olympians, through measures we would never have seen ourselves, and by-and-large, it works.

Great Lengths 2012 by Neville Gabie is published by Cornerhouse and priced £29.95

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