Olympic Metamorphoses

In the years leading up to the London 2012 Olympics, East London-based artist Anne Desmet has been documenting the transformation of the site, including the controversial development of the Hackney marshes. Having seen the initial plans and artists’ impressions of the projected construction when the Olympics were awarded to London, the artist became fascinated with the ensuing metamorphoses taking place in the area in which she lives and works.

Desmet’s response to these observations has manifested in a series of wood engravings and mixed media collages, with a particular focus on the construction stages of the main Olympic Stadium and the Velodrome, all viewed from above. These circular forms, already abstracted from their familiar ground-level appearance, are layered upon one another to create single, static representations of their continual evolution, reminiscent of ancient Roman arenas or mystical crop circles. The works have been brought together in an exhibition at the Studio Gallery, PM Gallery & House in West London, under the name Olympic Metamorphoses.

Using razor shell and roofing slate, stone and glass as well as pages torn from the London A to Z, the artist retains traces of the site’s history which emphasise the geographical and cultural upheaval that this relatively fast transformation is causing in its wake. In fact for many, the negative impact of the London 2012 Olympics outweighs its advocates’ claims of patriotic glory and increased income from tourism. While the consequences of rising rent and artisanal coffee shops in the Borough of Hackney have been a creeping issue for its residents over the past decade, the recent rapidity of its gentrification is sparking debate about the immediate future of this area previously renowned for its thriving arts scene.

It is difficult to tell what Desmet herself thinks of the process; her work presents a certain detachment, a pure interest in topographical shape and form which is reflective of the themes of geographical metamorphoses and mythical architecture that characterise much of her work, taking inspiration from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the biblical Tower of Babel. From her distant perspective, Desmet seems to be telling a story of the cycle of urban destruction and renewal, aiming ‘to suggest the sense of timelessness and solidity that architectural forms can convey, as well as their impermanence and vulnerability’; not just of London in 2012, but of the continual metamorphoses of all cities, everywhere, throughout time.

The exhibition runs at the Studio Gallery at PM Gallery & House, Ealing until 27 May 2012. Images courtesy of PM Gallery & House.

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