Art fest champions British talent in Olympic shadow

Mon Aug 2, 2010 10:59am EDT
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LONDON (Reuters) - Just a shotput's throw from the perimeter of the Olympic site in east London, an event highlighting the strength and diversity of Britain's creative industries, took place over the weekend.

Hackney Wicked, an art festival in its third year, showcased the work of the artists working in the 624 studios in Hackney Wick, a scruffy and neglected corner of Hackney, a vibrant but poor district in east London.

The neighborhood with its crumbling warehouses and drab low-rise council houses nestles in the shadow of the construction site for London's 2012 Olympics with its gleaming new velodrome, swimming complex and athletics stadium.

Festival goers on Friday night ambled in to a food processing plant where potatoes and carrots were being chopped for distribution to pubs and restaurants around London.

On Sunday there was a children's "drawing Olympics," but older frustrated artists who hadn't picked up a paintbrush since their school days could also pick up a pallet and brushes to paint a landscape copied from an image generated by an overhead projector.

Exhibits included an installation involving a hammer tied to a drill taking chunks out of a wall and a sculpture constructed of bricks salvaged from the River Thames as well as conventional oil on canvas.

But there were also bands playing, boat races on the canal that separates the arty neighborhood from the Olympic construction site, and the grand finale on Sunday evening, the burning of a wicker man.

The event showcased the eccentric and freewheeling spirit that helped Britain's claim to be a leading cultural light.

In the 1990s the epithet "Cool Britannia" was bestowed on the country to reflect the impact of musicians like Oasis and Blur and artists like Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst championed by renowned multimillionaire art collector Charles Saatchi.

Gavin Turk, one of Saatchi's favorites displayed work at Hackney Wicked, but this was an event that was really about championing the talents of those who have yet to make it into London's fashionable galleries.

(Reporting by Simon Falush, editing by Paul Casciato)