Polishing The Earth

Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham

Olympic Bully


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2010

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Photograph by Tanya Cottingham

Local East End streets are experiencing a rapid and vulgar ethnic cleansing. It is an order that has come from the top. The bully boy, backed by the powerfully suited, is the Olympic park. Its henchmen sit at policy and planning meetings, raised hands in unison as effective an act as any death sentence. The East End must be cleansed.

Day-times. Moving through space. Going about my business. The short cut to the shops is now a wooden fence determinedly planted across the alley. My park walk is disallowed by the canal path, withdrawn and replaced by meters of chain and electric fence, in turn policed by cameras. My intentions distort and abort. The street pushes me back.

Gazing out at the Olympic mega village i see bricks and mortar of declined industry cut into pieces, ground up and spat into landfill. Barren. Barred. Banished buildings. A public art sculpture replaces the factory. Instead of chimneys, terse squared tessellations of window and decked mini-terraces multiply seemingly overnight. Turning a corner i am stalled by a newly freed vista. What was here that blocked this view? I do not have time to muse for long as already the sound of diggers are scraping away new earth to plant new infrastructures, composting pipes and cables to grow and nurture new high rises.

I stare out from the designated Olympic viewing platform at this cull. At this startling newness. Certain of these structures make me uncertain of the century i am standing in, futuristic beyond the terminology of the now. Although enthused by the planners cheek, i cannot comprehend this rush to embrace with open arms architecture that would have caused paper to blush only a few years earlier. A pace change this stadium for staid old England. But these are different times, times when laws become malleable. This huge re-landscaping shaping before my eyes is not a proclamation of modernity, it is much more a proclamation of war.

A local war against an enemy, its own neighbourhood. An enemy who are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Here we are required to be on show or obsolete. Freedoms of buildings and body are limited and denied. Movement, choice and voice is stifled. We are a community on display. An example. Difference is displaced.

And an even bigger war is being fought too. Behind these electric fences. A war against a sometimes named enemy (who would apparently deem a certain society or faith to have less currency than another).

This last war. This monolith before me rears up its magnificence and speaks “I am the vulgar manifestation of money and power”, it leers at its enemies. “I represent all that you despise. Yes I am undeniably magnificent. I am monster, giant, you cannot ignore me. I defy gravity with my floating, dreaming structures. Spit on your four walls. I enhance my citizens with sporting heroics, my lucky elite citizens. I manifest their desiring. Give my peoples what they deserve”.

The stadium is guarded. Uniform staff. Snarling dogs. Impenetrable fences. Cameras. The canal nearby is policed by boat. A moat for a warring monster. Proudly the concrete goads. “I am target. I am built for you. But you would not dare come near me. Come try. I will exclude you. But wait, i have excluded you already”. It lets out a deep throated laugh like thunder.

At home. Home is waiting for demolition. Demolition is waiting for money. New governments have stayed the execution but the axe still swings with a certain sell-by-date. 2012 the calendar counts down the days on death row, impatient metronome.

Home awakes to the inevitable sound of scraping soil. Close enough. The fences each day march closer. Enclosing. Closing in. The building contractors car park nudges nearer. The once football pitch outside my window, now cut with tyre marks and covered by emblazoned builders vans, the livery of our apparent saviours, offering the opportunity for rebuilt pristine packaged lives. The pursuit of perfection.

The cavalry has arrived. But not to save us.


(The artist's flat in Shelmerdine Terrace in Tower Hamlets, awaits demolition due to a process of urban regeneration spurred on by the 2012 Olympics).

Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham