IN TOKYO, after seventy two year absence, it is finally happening again; never to be lost again; the forgotten competition has been reinstated. People, dressed in voluminous shapes of cathedrals and glass towers, are arriving exuberantly into the moonlit stage of the arena. The scale of the venue is shamelessly matched by the grandeur of the dress-up; amidst the 68’000 empty seats of the audience an eerie echo of a populistic tale about the foundation of the modern Olympic Games is being broadcasted—it had started with a dream.
Free Trade of Future
The Olympiad (Olympic Games) is the most prominent global sports event, recurring every 4 years, traces of whose existence stretch back to some 3000 year old documentation, when practiced by the Greeks as an athletic competition. Subsequently appropriated by the Romans as games: more of an entertainment rather than a contest, only to be eventually abolished altogether by themselves as an unwarranted festival of paganism. More currently, the man who is credited for mid wifing this western tradition into modernity is the ‘Thomas Edison of the Olympiad’: Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Having been inspired and indebted to uncredited scholars of ancient Greece, his personal romanticism led him to be interested in athletic competitions and the pedagogical potential of sports. Coubertin was looking to introduce a new era in international sport by inviting “us export our oarsmen, our runners, our fencers into other lands. That is the true ‘Free Trade’ of the future; and the day it is introduced into Europe the cause of Peace will have received a new and strong ally.” In totality, he imagined marrying the athletic with the aesthetic—to be educated in both body and mind; compete in sport rather than war. Subsequently, in 1896, an International Olympic Committee was established with him as the president of the IOC; yet the marriage of the two was still to be orchestrated. Having waited until the newly introduced format of Olympic Games is stable enough, in front of a select audience of about 60 ‘shot-callers’ in Paris, he declared that “we are to reunite in the bonds of legitimate wedlock a long-divorced couple—Muscle and Mind” and recapture the complete essence of the Ancient Olympic Games. Confident that it will be “a milestone in advancing public awareness of art as a whole”, Coubertin was convinced that art was as much part of the Olympic ideal as athletics, as he once wrote: “Deprived of the aura of the art contests ,Olympic games are only world championships. ”He continued explaining that “in the high times of Olympia, the fine arts were combined harmoniously with the Olympic Games to create their glory. This is to become reality once again.” So, he proposed the following: a “Pentathlon of the Muses”: architecture, music, literature, sculpture and painting.1Unanimously, all 60 members were seduced and approval was granted on the spot.
The first event which was to host the Art Olympiad was 1912 Stockholm, but the collective approval of such intention did not extend far from the cabinet of the Paris meeting; the scepticism of many outweighed the optimism of the few.2 In September 1911,guidelines for entering the competition were published: all works presented had to be original (not published before the competition) and directly inspired by the idea of sport; size didn’t matter, except for sculptors. In 1928Olympic Games, in Amsterdam, it was also allowed, for the first time, to sell the works; a decision that would be one of the main cornerstones for closure of the Games. And finally, at the opening ceremony of the 1936 Olympic Art competition, Reich Minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels reminded his audience that each work entered in the competition was required to have been created within the last four years, which then “enables us to derive from the Exhibition an estimate of international conditions.” This is the Olympic ‘package’ of rules.
After the second world War, a new President of the IOC took over, American Avery Brundage. His priority was establishing the Olympics as a purely amateur sport event as “he wanted the Olympics to be completely pure, not to be swayed by the weight of money.” That was the end of the Art Olympiad. Since the inherent nature of an artist is to sell their work, Brundage did not want the Olympic medal to be used as a commercial value raising validation for the artists: an ad of quality. Alas, the Games were over, the diminish of the ‘Pentathlon of the Muses’ took place in 1948. 151 medals were striked from the Olympic record ,and were not counted towards the overall medals of each country. Following the Olympics of 52’ an art festival and exhibition was held in parallel with the games—a replacement ‘tradition’ that is being maintained up until nowadays. The Pentathlon of the Muses had become a Trade Show for the Masses (Cultural Olympiad); the force of reality had caught up with the impotency of the initial dream. The last phrase echoes over the seats of the arena, concluding: “but then, it all changed in Tokyo”.
It is the first day of the revamped Art Olympiad, the architectural athlete enter the arena; first up: platform diving, doubles. The TV commentator starts describing: “we cannot and do not see all the work and the team effort that has been put in prior to this moment of performance”, effortlessly referencing Ruskin in an Olympic twist of his well known truisms about sacrifice and architecture. As both arrive at the edge of the platform, the Olympic veterans take the extra step to get into their seats; the panel discussion can begin: “ready, set, go”.
Each ‘iconoclastic dive’ of presentation is judged by the amount of splash of entrée and the form of execution. In a reverse methodology of evaluation, here, the synchronisation and uniformity is unwelcome: splash is golden. “Architecture is a hazardous mix of omnipotence and I'm..”; “Impossible, I give up”, declares the contestant sensing the impossibility of recovering from the mega-splash. “Slam dunk!” the commentator misplaces his enthusiasm, and the first gold medal is won. As one switches the channel, the archery is about to begin. Superseded only by weightlifting, it is one of the more complex, yet lesser compelling disciplines to watch. Each additional weight, representing the distance within the project, adds in an exponential progression; no matter what the athlete does. It is a battle with the time and not the weight. The only safety mechanism against breaking one’s body is the ever present aim of the archer, also known as the ‘manager’s arrow’. Thi phenomenon is globally known as the bimmer’s syndrome, and their ultimate reward, more than often, is not the precious metals but the eternal glory of the office.
On the neighbouring field there is another dual- discipline exhibit, the two ‘R’s’: H and P. Historically it was established that despite having their own letters, they both are bound to shooting. While fundamentally both are using the same weapon, it is the target that differentiates the performances. The ‘P’ likes to place her own target, fixed. Here the process of shooting is disguised as of the frame of the table. As the matches progressed further, the voracity and techniques of the players had reached illegible levels of performance.
Unanimously the judges decided to award all, as there can be no victors in a war of ghosts.” uncertainty, despite the performance always being 100%. ‘I wonder how’ is asked on much fewer occasions than ‘I wonder when’. In opposition, the challenge of hitting a moving mark, floating in afield of uncertainty, lies in the inherent unpredictability of the target. In both cases one is clear: the success is inherently linked to the performance o both barrels of the shotgun. After all, both shooters are officially bound to share the same weapon; the process of cleaning becomes as important as that of firing. The first day of the Games is rounded off by the award ceremony of table tennis players. Unexpectedly, it seems that the number of medallists is exactly the same as the number of contestants. Instead of the iconic three-step stage, all of the players are standing on a fragile elongated bench, all covered with black satin gowns. The voice from the television explains: “Due to the fact that Tokyo 2020 introduced academic table tennis as a substitute to the traditional version, the jury could not decide the scores of the games, as each twisted and spun hit of each player seemed to never leave the white borders
In between the live translations educational segments are broadcast, explaining the different formats of participation; a lingering legacy of Coubertain call for the pedagogical potential of sports .Fundamentally, one can enter into Individual or Team competitions. Due to the limited time of the segment, only a few examples are presented, starting with images of a team of synchronised swimmers, all rotating flawlessly with their feet above water, submerged in a field of bureaucratic confusion: “fascinating, how such beauty of coordination is achieved based purely on the precision of practice, rather than an active communication between the swimmers”. The segment then advances into a short clip exposing highlights from the recent triathlon of the ‘emerging offices’. Despite the disciplinary difference with its classical counterpart, the architectural triathletes train to achieve exactly the same physique: endurance, strength and speed. The only difference being that in the classical triathlon the athletes compete for the fastest overall time, registered at the crossing of the final finish line; whereas the officers finish line is bound to the laws of the ‘observer effect’, which dictates that the act of observation changes the measured results. In other words, one is never ready to cross the finish line, as the very act of seeing yourself crossing the white stripe repositions it to an unknown location. just don't Do It & keep running!
The channel is back at the light covered field of performance. The frame of the screen zooms into the starting position of the 10km marathon run. Instead of the usual individual run, this one is being run in clusters of irregular numbers. Instead of finishing first, the goal here is to finish; a feat that is not made easier by the obligatory inclusion of badminton as the disciplinary requirement of ‘internian excellence’. This is the evolutionary arena of the table tennis players, who, if succeeded, will be advanced way beyond the temporal celebration of survival. The starting shot is fired at 9:00am and the race begins; some start late; at this stage there is no false start. Besides running the distance, the balancing of the unpredictable shuttlecock within your immediate cluster asks for an active collaboration between the body and mind: the first proper Olympian challenge. The genius of this run lies in its inherent narrative of wisdom: the shape of the badminton ‘birdie’ is extremely aerodynamically stable; the challenge is generated not through the given attributes but through the form of their application. For those who survive the run, there is no award ceremony where you are given the medal. The victors claim their medal in silence. They have already found during the run. The bronze medallists consummate the race only to discover that the finish line is no different from the start line, and that the bronze is no different from silver. This is a race of silent victors, for whom gold is not a state of race but a state of mind.
Looking around the moonlit stage of the arena, some acute questions arose: “Is this a disillusion of a colossal scale? Or is there actually an audience beyond the apparent vacancy of the stadiums? Is it ultimately about the building and its performance, or rather about the convincing of its creator that she can perform as good as her architecture? The costumes of the architectural athletes are more than simply volumes; it is a declaration of their Olympic capabilities, unless I am mistaken, and the resurrected Olympiad was intended to be a competition based not on merit but rather on self-celebration. Amateurs, just as much as celebrated personas, are all welcome. But welcome only if willing to interlock their frames in a wedlock of Olympic competition. There is a fear, after all, and it is justified: the competition reveals the incapability of a single leader to produce an output that is produced by the ‘machinery’ of an office. Should the leader be able to do all? A modern renaissance artist, or just an efficient delegator of responsibilities?” As this line of questioning was over, the small group of remotely recognisable people stood up from their seats and left each to their own directions: “see you in 4”. The ceremony was over.
The goal of the revamped Art Olympiad had all intention to reinvigorate Baron’s Olympian outlook of Body-Mind. The definitions might have Iconoclastic performances in an Olympic Wedlock changed over a century, but the fundamental stays constant: it is about balancing both. In that sense, the event was a spectacular success. The Games had revealed the extent of architecture’s dependency on their own athletes, which injected some well needed controversy into the event. This time the organisers will safeguard the modern ‘Pentathlon of the Muses’ by utilising the controversy of competition as the guideline to keep the Olympic ideals and definitions ever-changing. Relieved, the president closes this year’s Games with final words of encouragement: “Education must not simply teach work — it must teach life”.3 The pedagogical potential of sports: after all, it had all started with a dream.