The summer of 2012 was exquisitely stage-managed. Not just in terms of the events that occurred during those weeks in August and September, but also in the sense of managing and shaping how we were to remember them. As much as it was about creating a vast visual spectacle, the Olympics was also about manufacturing a similarly vast myth for later recall.
At home, this spectacle was designed to be remembered as an affirmation of the ethos of the moment - the politics of austerity and individualism. A brand of inclusivity that was simultaneously exclusive, relying on individual achievement as the ultimate marker of success, and individual failure as the binary of this.
Abroad, the games became a projection of the United Kingdom’s status - past, present and future. This was particularly evident in the extravaganza of Englishness that was the opening ceremony, where actors dressed as health service workers danced in a three hour spectacular, the cost of which could have employed a thousand real nurses for a year.
Only these officially sanctioned domestic and international narratives were permitted, while others were frequently sidelined and marginalised. Narratives, for example, that suggested the games were encroaching upon the very communities they claimed to be empowering. The installation of surface-to-air missiles on top of residential tower blocks was perhaps the most visible and widely reported aspect of a web of draconian security - itself just one of a series of wider intrusions.
Other aspects were less headline grabbing and more imperceptible to those outside of their immediate circles of effect. The compulsory purchase of properties for example, and the subsequent “decanting” of their residents to distant new communities in order to make way for venues, “villages”, luxury flats, and the largest urban shopping centre in Europe.
Still more silent were those narratives that did not reference the games at all - people continuing about their lives, absorbed in other things besides gold medals and multi-million pound sponsorship deals. For some, the games barely registered on their radar. Clark’s photographs and the detritus he has collected from the borderlands of the Olympic zone attest, amongst other things, to lives lived below the horizon of this event. Thoughts of far smaller ceremonies.
Passing an exam, money owed, a place in a queue. Secrets, lies, loves. Fears, memories, futures. All “key evants in the jorney of life” as the misspelled jottings on one scrap of paper put it. On another, an anonymous author writes, “I am learning about sacred stories so I can retell the key events”. We all have our own version of events from 2012, but what matters now is to learn about the sacred stories which for the most part remain unknown and unknowable. Sacred stories into which this rescued ephemera perhaps offers us a sideways and momentary glance.
Lewis Bush, October 2013