Britain’s largest sculpture, The ArcelorMittal Orbit stands 114.5m tall over the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford. At the top of the distinctive red steel structure, reminiscent of a warped Helter Skelter, a circular room of white empty space contains two mirrors worth £1 million each, offering an upside down view of the London skyline.
Promoted as a magnificent tourist attraction and described as a unique collaboration between two of the world’s leading artists (Anish Kapoor and Carsten Höller), the origins of this structure are not as public friendly as they may appear.
Twenty years after the war crimes committed in Omarska as part of the Bosnia War, ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel producer began using the space as a commercial enterprise. Being the site of the most notorious concentration camp of the Bosnian War, it is incredible that Mittal has been able to use this space, just showing that you can do what you like as long as you have the money and power to do so. As part of the contract to being able to use this space, the steel manufacturers made a commitment to finance and build a memorial on the grounds; this never came about however and in absence of this, The ArcelorMittal Orbit in London now stands as The Omarska Memorial.
“At some point, Mittal must recognize that all the steel in the world will not obscure the truth of the victims’ dignity and the appalling conduct of his company in the communities that make its profits and, consequently, London’s ‘Orbit’ possible.” (Hodzic, 2013). Orbit was built as a London Olympic landmark made possible by the investment of ArcelorMittal at a time they had promised to pay respect to the many victims of the war. Journalist, Refik Hodzic elaborates by describing the project as disturbing and alarming, especially coming from a company who describe the steel structure, Orbit, as a proclamation of “corporate responsibility”.
With the same idea in mind that as long as corporations have the money, they can do what they like, there have been many other social and moral issues raised by the 2012 London Olympics, not just on this global level between Bosnia and London, but also on a much more local level.
When the 2012 Olympics were announced, East London stood in silence, whilst Trafalgar Square rejoiced…”A significant factor in London’s winning bid was the regeneration of East London, the site of a series of large-scale construction projects for the London Games that promised a lasting legacy for communities and businesses” (Marini, 2013).
The East London we know today, for its radical spaces and creative community is being gentrified beyond belief with the Olympic games being the most significant factor in this change. We know that London is saturated by advertisements and corporate buildings, but locations such as Shoreditch always provided a form of escapism, being a more public orientated space with strong communities. The regeneration of East London for the London Games carries the repercussions of people losing homes, jobs and businesses to make way for the construction of branded shops and corporate owned spaces.
A lot of the space in London should still be public, and should never have been sold, however we as the general public cannot dictate how a company runs it’s business. Past examples of this are highlighted in Canary Wharf. As part of Roman Law, everybody had the right to freely walk around the Thames however when Canary Wharf bought their space it became privatised and those rights were lost, this is exactly what we can see happening to more and more locations in East London today.
Four years after the London Games, people local to Stratford still cannot move around their local spaces freely, the constant developments and work sites mean that the residents are getting stopped and diverted in new ways each week. During the Olympics, people living on canal boats were facing huge fines for not moving location as often as law states, simply because the river buses running to transport tourists were blocking any movement.
Consequences like this are even more devastating to the community considering East London’s history of poverty, and the hard work and community spirit of these struggling people shaping it into the successful and cultured space it soon became. It is important for us to consider what is being lost and to think about what we have left in terms of public space in relation to branding space. Is all the development of one of the world’s most visited cities ever going to stop and how much more can be taken away from it’s communities?
Hodzic, R. (2013) Shadow of London ‘Orbit’ in Bosnia: Mittal suppresses memories of Omarska. Available at: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/mittal-suppresses-memories-of-omarska/1460/10 (Accessed: 14 March 2016).
Marini, H. (2013) ‘The ArcelorMittal orbit ’s ambivalent effect and the London Olympics: Art, regeneration, business and sustainability’,Contemporary Theatre Review, 23(4), pp. 587–592. doi: 10.1080/10486801.2013.839175.
Schuppli, S. (2012) A memorial in exile in London’s Olympics: Orbits of responsibility. Available at: https://www.opendemocracy.net/susan-schuppli/memorial-in-exile-in-london%E2%80%99s-olympics-orbits-of-responsibility (Accessed: 14 March 2016).