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The art of sport

14 September 2011 | Tom Butler

How the separate worlds of UK sports and arts are coming together in preparation for the 2012 Olympics

Is sport art? A question I'm sure which has been debated on many an occasion but one where no definitive answer has ever been provided, and probably never will. One question that has been answered however, and emphatically so, is whether sport and art can combine.
 
When the Cultural Olympiad was set up in 2008, one of it's remits was to create a series of events and projects that would bring the UK sports and arts communities together and exhibit the fact that these two previously thought of, separate worlds, could not only co-exist together but also flourish.
 
As a result, the Olympiad commissioned a series of projects encompassing art, sport, music and film to name just a few, which culminates with the London 2012 Festival taking place from June through to September next year.
 
As part of the ongoing series of events it has recently been announced that Tracey Emin is to be one of twelve artists who will design an official London 2012 poster which will then be part of a free exhibition at Tate Britain next year.
 
At the same time, the BFI will be showing a series of early Alfred Hitchcock silent films. Hitchcock himself being a born and bred East Londoner. The films will be accompanied by orchestral scores from celebrated British talent such as Nitin Sawhney, Daniel Cohen and Tansy Davies.
 
It is a series of events such as these which will undoubtedly give the build up to the games a very British feel, with the aim being to celebrate and showcase the amazing talent the UK art community has to offer the world.
 
As such, it will give people the opportunity to interact and involve themselves with the Olympics through art in a way previously unheard of, with the ultimate goal being to inspire future generations to aspire to such heights in years to come.
 
One of the projects commissioned by Arts Council England as part of the Cultural Olympiad is 'Artists Taking The Lead', where twelve pieces of public  art are to be displayed across the country in the lead up to the games.
 
In London, artists Alfie Dennen and Paula Le Dieu have combined to produce a work called Bus Tops which will see a series of LED panels placed on the roofs of various bus stops across the city from January next year.
 
The idea is for Londoners to talk to each other, display creativity and express what is special about their city. This will all happen with members of the public submitting and viewing artwork through the website and mobile applications.
 
It is expected that the interactive element of the project and use of modern day technology will encourage younger generations to take part who would previously have felt no connection to the Olympics, or indeed have very limited experience of seeing art in practice.
 
The 2012 Olympic Legacy is a topic frequently in the news for the importance Lord Coe and his team placed on it as part of the winning bid in 2005. Thanks to Artists Taking The Lead and also to the BT Art of Sport working alongside the Cultural Olympiad this legacy is becoming a very tangible reality.
 
The BT Art of Sport is a project which aims to showcase the work of ten UK artists producing work inspired by the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics and retell the story of the Games for years to come.
The aim of the initiative is to draw on the power of art to capture the mindset of the athletes whilst at the same time conveying the drama and passion of the Olympics.
 
It is the broad skill set of the artists chosen which promises to provide one of the most interesting aspects of the project. From sculpture to watercolours via street art and photography, the wide range should enable large sections of the public to have an affinity for the body of work produced.
 
Ben Dearnley, one of the chosen artists, is producing a number of sculptures of Olympians and Paralympians including Mark Foster. He gave his thoughts on the project when taking a plaster cast of  ‘Blade Runner’Oscar Pistorius at the Paralympic World Cup.
 
“My work focuses on the core strengths of each Olympic and Paralympic athlete I have worked with, capturing something of the essence of what it is that makes them the best in the world at what they do.” 
 
Dearnley has been working on a series of sculptures since 2008 which will form an ‘Avenue of Champions’to be shown across the UK before residing at Salisbury Cathedral for the duration of the games.
 
“These fragmented sculptures are forming a document of our time –a legacy –in marble and bronze. Each holds part of the key to the athletes’power zone, which I see as pivotal to them being the best in the world at what they do, and it is great privilege to be collaborating with these inspirational athletes, uniting them in this series.”
 
A fascinating side story is Mark Jackson, a former soldier turned painter and sculptor and one of the ten chosen artists. Jackson injured himself badly in a parachuting accident and left the army in 2003. Now a successful artist, Jackson took it upon himself to record the participation of ex-servicemen and women in the Paralympic World Cup last month.
 
Part of the legacy of the project will be for some of the works to be sold in order to support a range of sporting charities including ParalympicsGB. It’s projects such as this which will ensure Lord Coe’s pledge for the Olympics to make a lasting difference will not go unheeded.
 

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