Cognitive Landscaping

One of the most striking clauses of the Host City Contract that London signed with the International Olympic Committee in 2005 and that granted the city the right to organise the Games has to do with the “IOC Outdoor Advertising Policy”. In the Technical Manual of Brand Protection, one of the binding annexes to the contract, the following is stipulated:

– Beginning with the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, each OCOG [local organising committee] is required to obtain — through working with government agencies and billboard owners — control over all city advertising opportunities: airport, train, bus, and other transport advertising, as well as billboard advertising.
– Control must be maintained for one month prior to the Olympic Games period plus the duration of the Olympic Games period.

This basically means that every single outdoor advertising outlet is handed over to LOCOG and the official sponsors: BP, BMW, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, etc.

I’ve been curious for a while now to see whether/how this was enforced in a city as big and complex as London, and I have to confess that up till this week I thought the impact of official Olympic advertising in the city’s landscape had been rather mild, certainly far from the ruthless homogenisation I had envisioned.

But then I went to Stratford.

Stratford, it seems to me, is currently an excellent window into what Jules Boykoff calls ‘celebration capitalism’. For instance, it shows what happens when public space is handed over to private capital – but not in a deregulated market, but in a tightly regulated one, where only a few companies are allowed to operate and do so in very favourable conditions including tax exemptions.

The old high-rises of Stratford, the same ones that are hidden from the view from Orbit tower via strategically placed mirrors, have now been converted in huge advertising canvases.

The rusty bridge that connects Westfield with Stratford does not overlook the railroads anymore. It is covered in Coca-Cola advertising, which makes you feel like a horse wearing hyped-up blinkers.

Of course the real genius of the whole operation is the fact that one has to walk through Westfield Shopping Centre to get to the Olympic Park, so that the experience of the Games is forever connected to this particular shopping mega-structure. Let me exaggerate: the sports competitions become a temporary interruption of the real event: the masses of people shopping 24/7 in Westfield.

There is a veritable ‘cognitive landscaping’ at play here, an attempt to direct our perception of the environment in a very specific direction. The following pictures are a very first attempt to grasp this form of interpellation, based on seduction as much as reiteration. I will keep trying to capture the phenomenon more precisely.

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Text and pictures by Isaac Marrero-Guillamón

* ‘Fragments of a fieldwork diary’ is an attempt to make visible some of the in-between stages of my work. Rather than waiting for these ideas to mature and hopefully be published (a very long process), I have decided to use this blog to start sharing some first thoughts and early developments. Feedback is welcome and encouraged.

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