Mark Wayman 'An East London Border'

Artvehicle 28/Performance

17th November 2007 — 30th November -0001

'An East London Border' considers the subject of the Olympic Park. By means of a talk and supporting photographs, the artist describes the places that he has visited on a walk circumnavigating the park site. The photos conform to a familiar urban aesthetic of detritus and crumbling industrial infrastructure and, through an inventory of notices, fencing, building works and so forth, testify to the district's ongoing occupation.

Despite the fact that the venue for the talk overlooks the prospective Olympic Park from a twenty third-floor room, the site is not mentioned in the talk. Wayman instead restricts his discussion to the landscape immediately outside the park and, as he proceeds through the photos, he uses the view below as a kind of a chart on which to trace his trajectory. In other words the landscape through the window functions as a map that can be pointed at, while the images taken on the walk are the places that are charted on it. As each image is positioned, there gradually emerges on the map a roughly circular but empty space at its centre. If it is, as Lefebvre tells us, the act of naming and charting that brings a place into being, then the park has been consigned to a kind of nowhere in centre view, a kind of Gordon Matta Clark hole on a super-industrial scale.

The removal of a key component of composition invites comparison with the lipogram - a kind of constrained writing where a particular letter or group of letters is missing. In many cases the lipogram may be no more than a literary conceit undertaken to make writing more difficult for difficulty's sake. But in others the absence of the letter or the act of making difficult draws attention to conceptual issues in the narrative's subject matter. Georges Perec's novel 'La Disparition' (1969), for example, famously avoids the use of the letter 'e' and its absence is described as being analogous to the disappearance of Perec's Polish- Jewish family during the war. For Wayman, the removal of the land that occupies centre stage in the view also forces the spectator to reflect on what has been taken away. But talking about the view from the window without mentioning the park towards which the gaze is orientated complicates a narrative that would otherwise be simple. In this respect it represents a reversal of the logic of the view from the high-rise, which is to make readable the complexity of the city.

'An East London Border' was delivered in the very same room where the Queen, Mr Blair, Mr Livingstone and the Olympic Bid Committee (OBC) brought the World Olympic Committee (WOC) to view the site. It formed an integral part of their sales pitch and there are pictures on the wall of Sally Gunnell and Colin Jackson crossing finish lines and the lift still smells of detergent. Key to the success of London's bid was to convey to the WOC a sense of unity, coherence, and being in control - that is, to persuade them that the task of delivering the Olympics would be easy. The totalising viewpoint of the high-rise lent itself well to this rhetoric by permitting the delegates to disentangle themselves from the 'daily behaviour' (De Certeau) of Hackney's inhabitants. Thus they were able to look down from a kind of panopticon onto a unified and placid 'community' that was bereft of the plurality that might have complicated the bid and jeopardised its success. To complicate the story of the view from this window then, as Wayman did, was to complicate the story of the Olympic Games as a whole.

Unsurprisingly, the transformation of Hackney into an Olympic Park was far from simple and remains riddled with contest, difference and dilemma. Wayman's performance belongs within this larger culture of resistance to the dominant narrative of the Olympic Games. During his account of the walk he refers to occasions on which he was challenged by security guards as to what he was doing so near to the site, and told that photography was not permitted. The performance was also timed to coincide with the Symposium 'London 2012 Never Took Place. Re-imagining the Olympic Zone', hosted by the University of East London in Stratford. Echoing some of Wayman's concerns and sensing the public mood, Iain Sinclair opened the convention by lamenting the loss of terrain. He spoke of gestures of resistance, mentioning that he had received through his letter box a small sawn off section of the notorious blue perimeter fence. But despite the efforts of Sinclair and some members of the panel to ensure that discussion of the Olympic park acknowledged the difficulties of meeting the economic needs of a nation and the social requirements of individual people, it generally did not and there followed a series of emotional and worthy but nevertheless simplistic accounts of the damage that the Olympic Park was causing. Here Wayman's project succeeded where the gist of the conference did not.

Unlike the vision of Hackney without the Olympics, Wayman's performance pointed to the impossibility of the view from the ground as well as from the window. It was a clear day, but the park was far below and the low winter sun shone almost straight into the window, reducing the supposed vantage spot to a featureless indecipherable, mass. Wayman flicked through the images by way of clarification: fencing, canals, fish-smoking facilities, warehouses. One picture showed a series of posts with numbers on them that didn't seem to have a logical sequence. Another was of a timber yard car park with a notice telling customers not to leave children unattended. In these unremarkable photos were all the traces of idiosyncrasy, anxiety, and aspiration that characterise place. But the screen was too small and the subjects were cropped too close to provide any coherent sense of the people or the histories that have produced them. The spectator was forced to choose between looking at the photographs or through the window. We could never quite manage to do both.