Simon Pope: Memory Marathon at John Hansard Gallery Central, Southampton

Simon Pope (b. 1966) explores the interactions of memory and dialogue in relation to landscape representation. His work Memory Marathon will be on show at John Hansard Gallery Central during July and celebrates personal memory and international spirit in the London 2012 Olympic Games host city. We spoke to the artist about the project and how filmmakers can work with brands.

BR: Where did the idea for Memory Marathon come from?

SP: The project was developed in collaboration with Film & Video Umbrella. Steven Bode approached me with initial ideas, based on discussions we’d had following the production of The Memorial Walks (2007) and Negotiating Picu Cuturruñau (2008). These were both projects where I had walked with other people, ending a journey with a spoken-word description of something that had been seen prior to or during the walk. We were interested in how this method of walking and talking could be used to produce descriptions of what is witnessed as a spectator of the games, whether a body in motion, or the venue where the event takes place. In most cases this venue turned out to be a familiar domestic or social space, rather than the official Olympic venue, and what was seen were the mediated images of the event, broadcast by television or imagined from a radio commentary.

Memory Marathon was made in response to the ODA/ACE/LDA Inside Out commission. Its emphasis on what lies outside of the Olympic park was of interest to us. It presented an opportunity to work with the people who live and work in the surrounding boroughs but who are largely spectators, rather than participants, in the immense changes that are being brought about by the games.

BR: You walked with each participant for a 400-metre section of the total 26 miles. How did you select who was going to accompany you?

SP: We set out to find people by using the kinds of “outreach” strategies which might be used by any large-scale project which needs to demonstrate diversity of participation and to extend its reach at a local level. We employed specialists in this way of working and identified people and organisations that were extensively connected to others in the area.

We used these techniques as a way of generating a very closely connected network of participants from a very wide constituency of people. Once this “machine” for recruitment had been set in motion, it became almost autonomous. We were interested in how the production as a whole would become an almost unstoppable force – as an analogue to those unleashed by the Olympics, by local and national government by property developers and so on.

BR: Did you hear anything on the journey that surprised you?

I’d met most of the people involved at other times, during workshops and get-togethers arranged in the months leading up to the film shoot. In most cases I had talked to people about what they would describe and so was familiar with people’s interests and intentions. Rather than surprise, I was actually quite overwhelmed by the sheer enthusiasm for the project by all of those involved. There was a tremendous amount of good-will shown to us. People were supportive throughout the process. There was never a hint of cynicism or dismissiveness shown towards the project as an artwork, which I think was down to forming genuine relationships with those involved and steering clear of mainstream media for recruitment or promotion of the project.

BR: The programme of cultural events leading up to the Olympics has been and continues to be incredibly diverse. What has been the highlight of the Cultural Olympiad for you?

SP: Memory Marathon was made quite a while ago – we walked in November 2009 – and it seems quite divorced from the other projects under the Cultural Olympiad banner. It will be interesting to re-visit it this summer and to see where it fits within the gamut of recently-commissioned official projects and those that openly object to the Olympics and all it brings with it.

BR: Where else can we see Memory Marathon this year?

SP: There are screenings or presentations at the Sugarhouse Studios, Stratford (6th July), the Whitechapel Gallery (12th July) and Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) (27th-29th July).

BR: What other projects are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a short film to be shown at YSP in October 2012, (and later at Danielle Arnaud in London) and a participatory project in the former coalfields of South Wales.

BR: What advice would you give to artists and filmmakers looking to collaborate with brands such as the Olympics? How did this collaboration come about?

SP: The project was a collaboration with Film & Video Umbrella and its participants rather than with the Olympics “brand”. I would not have been interested in making this work if that had been the case. The project was entirely independent from the marketing and promotions aspects of the games. Once selected, we weren’t working to anyone else’s brief – we determined every aspect of the project’s development and production and had no pressure to undertake any officially-sanctioned flag-waving or cheer-leading.

Simon Pope: Memory Marathon, 10/07/2012 until 21/07/2012, John Hansard Gallery Central, 9 Civic Centre Road, Southampton, SO14 7JF.

Simon Pope, Memory Marathon, 2009-10.
Image courtesy the artist and Film & Video Umbrella.

Text: Bethany Rex