Hackney Wick is a strange yet rather wonderful hinterland of East London. It is an area bounded on the West and North by the A12 urban speedway (East Way) and on the East by canals and the Hackney Marshes, and as such has the characteristics of an urban island cut off from mainstream London.
I found myself there for the first time yesterday, after having lived in London on-and-off for 6 decades. I’ve passed through Hackney Wick Station many a time, en-route to the major transportation hub at Stratford, one station further down the line. But I never got out there before.
The occasion was the Hackney Wick Festival in which a friend was taking part. The area was once a thriving industrial area, but it sank into post-industrial decline a few decades ago. More recently, artists and creative workers discovered its decaying factories and warehouses and started making their homes and studios there, where rents are still cheaper than in more fashionable Shoreditch or Bethnal Green, and where work and living spaces are larger and more flexible. Studios, exhibition and performance spaces, bars and eating places have begun to spring up, as well as a lively somewhat anarchistic series of events and festivals, of which the Hackney WickED festival is probably the most established and interesting (see http://www.hackneywicked.co.uk/, and associated video http://vimeo.com/31032249 ).
I learned that, sadly, the festival didn’t happen this year. The organizers could not get the necessary permissions during the Olympic year, on account of the proximity to the Olympic site.
Standing on the canal bankside in Hackney Wick, and looking over to the back of Olympic City is a strange and disquieting experience. The City is now closed off, falling silent and empty the moment the last athletes and spectators left, the securitised buildings gleaming inhumanly behind the multiple layers of barbed wire and camera that would be more typical of a top secret military installation.
You can see, from this vantage point, what violence the Olympic development has done to the weft and texture of the city, distorting the organic and incremental change process of the cityscape in a paroxysm of state-corporate profligacy.
On a stall run by the Wick curiosity Book Shop (http://www.publicworksgroup.net/fromthewick/2012/9) I found and bought a book entitled “The Art of Dissent: Adventures in London’s Olympic State” (http://theartofdissent.net/about/ )
There, in a chapter by Isaac Marrero-Guillamon, I read the words whicb crystalised something about why I have felt troubled and suspicious of the Olympic development ever since it was first announced that it was coming to London, on 6th July 2005, the fateful eve of London’s 9/11.
“The colossal transformation of the legal and spatial landscape brought about by the 2012 games effectively relies on the unofficial declaration of a state of exception, that is, a suspension of the ordinary juridical order… Rather than a provisional and exceptional measure, it has become a technique of government, increasingly used in a range of non-war situations such as financial crises, general strikes, or, more recently and infamously, the US Patriot Act and Guantanemo. Defined as the suspension of law by law, the state of exception produces an empty space, a zone of indeterminancy in which bare life (the human being stripped of political and legal attributes) is encompassed by naked power (a limitless power, which is not tied to the legal system). However void, this legal no-mans land has proved to be highly effective, to the extent that “the voluntary creation of a permanent state of emergency (though perhaps not declared in the technical sense) has become one of the essential practices of contemporary states. This state of exception is legitimized on the grounds of exceptional necessity, and sustained through military metaphors.”
The book is a chronicle of the multiple expressions of dissent against the state of exception that was the Olympic development, by residents, by writers, by artists and activists. I was unaware till I found this book that the Manor Garden Allotments, serving the community for 100 years, had been swept away, along with 1,500 local residents, 200 local businesses, and 500 local jobs. The beneficiaries were the official multinational “partners” of the Games – Coca-Cola, Dow, McDonalds, Omega, Visa, BP, BMW, British Airways.
The exceptionalism which justified all this is exactly the same exceptionalism as Tony Blair used to justify the Iraq War, and which will no doubt will be called upon many times in the future, to override the wishes and interests of ordinary people in favour of the rich and powerful.
Standing yesterday on that canalside I was able to see two opposing aspects of British society facing each other. On one side were the vibrant, diverse, and communitarian folk of Hackney Wick, living simply and joyfully, transforming and re-using what had been left by others. On the other side was the dead and empty hulk of Olympic City, shut off and unproductive, deserted by its corporate masters the moment that profits could no longer be made from it to the vast extent required by their shareholders.
I know which of those aspects I want, for myself and the people of London. Long live Hackney Wick!
Marrero-Guillamon, I. (2012) Olympic State of Exception. In H.Powell & I. Marrero-Guillamon (eds.) The Art of Dissent: Adventures in London’s Olympic State. London: Marshgate Press. ISBN978-0-9572943-0-1