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Gabie's Olympic residency pieces: includes one inspired by a French masterpiece

Date uploaded: February 1, 2012

Gabie's Olympic residency pieces: includes one inspired by a French masterpiece

Neville Gabie was artist-in-residence for the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) while the site was being built from October 2010 to 9th January, before it was handed over to the Games organisers, Locog.

Bathers at Asnieres, Georges Seurat's famous 19th Century impressionist masterpiece, is housed in London's National Gallery and is a big draw for visitors. "I had been shown some visualisations of how the park would look," he said. "The similarity with that and Bathers at Asnieres struck me immediately."

Gabie realised that his version, Freeze Frame, could have social parallels with the original. He was not just struck by the physical resemblance of the riverbanks in both images: "Seurat's artwork was painted [in 1884] when France really embraced being a republic, when it had become acceptable to paint ordinary urban, working-class people with factories in the background… The PR for the Olympic Park is that's it's a public park for people, but instead of being a post-industrial landscape, it has big, iconic sporting venues," he said. 

Gabie ensured that his time on the site was spent "following the characters working in the park - I know them all pretty well now", he said. The figures in his image include the Park’s landscape architect and gardeners, a security guard and an engineer. The man and his dog are former members of the Metropolitan Police's explosives team.

Gabie’s photograph was taken in June 2011 and his blog reveals how painstaking it was to get the exact shot he wanted. He proclaimed: "I had no idea that what seemed like such a simple idea would prove to be so complex - in fact a logistical nightmare! Just getting the equipment and kayak on to the park through security and getting everyone from their various sites to the one location was more stressful then I thought possible. To get everyone, including the boats on the water in exactly the right position for the one single moment of the photograph took an age. When Steve's dog Buddy was still, then the boats were drifting off course, or a digger would appear on the opposite bank."

Gabie is in the process of visualising his ideas – working on films and sculptures which are inspired by his time at the Olympic site, having tried to see as much as possible while making his research films. One of his works features a Turkish Cypriot woman who drove a bus which ferried workers around the Olympic Park. The "obsessive swimmer" swam the length of her bus route in the Olympic pool. "It's a fantastic story, she was such an inspirational character - and she was also an obsessive swimmer," he said. His 25-minute film is of her swimming the length of her bus route - just under one mile - in the Olympic pool in the Aquatics Centre. The film's length was determined by the time it took her to do the swim, and includes footage of her at work with her colleagues. Gabie said: "There is a hidden cohort of 30 bus drivers who work on the park. I think their commitment of time, the hours they do, is extraordinary."

Gabie has also made a film about being in the stadium by himself. He asked: "When you stand in a massive, empty stadium on your own, how do you make sense of a space so big and quiet? In the light of how much activity will be taking place there, how can you measure the scale of it?" He filmed himself sitting in as many seats as possible – dressed in full builder's gear: a high-visibility vest, a hard hat and steel toe-capped boots.  He spent 69 hours in the stadium, sitting on about 40,000 seats. Whilst it now seats 80,000 spectators, there was a total of 69,000 seats when he produced the film. He produced three films; one in real time, one in time-lapse photography and the third slightly sped up. The works will be shown at Newham Leisure Centre in the Olympic borough in addition to being exhibited at View Tube.

Another film features 239 portraits of the people who built the stadium. It lasts 9.58 seconds, the exact length of Usain Bolt's world record 100m. The film is currently being shown at View Tube, a viewing platform opposite the Olympic site.

Alongside the films, Gabie is working on some sculptural objects. He tried to walk in a straight line across the Park and is creating an artwork inspired by this. He added: "I'm working now with the Olympic Park Legacy Company, doing a big publication and hopefully will have another exhibition in November".

This story was taken from an article on the BBC News website on 1st February 2012: London 2012: Olympic art recreates French masterpiece  by Helen Bushby: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-16795726

Neville Gabie: Freeze Frame

Neville Gabie: Freeze Frame