Panem et Circenses
If the Olympics and all those artists blithely pimping the London 2012 brand are making you nauseous, head to Rob Tufnell’s for a restorative dose of scholarly bah humbug. There you’ll find a selection of works under the title ‘Panem et Circenses’. Meaning ‘bread and circuses’ or ‘bread and games’, the expression was coined in the first century AD to describe politically motivated mass distractions of cheap food and entertainment. This show wants to remind us that it has just as much relevance in an age of £5 artisanal loaves and £9 billion sports days.
It moves from the seminal (Guy Debord’s film ‘The Society of the Spectacle’ still captures the alienations of a commodified and media saturated world almost 40 years after it was made) to the sweetly pathetic (Richard Hughes’s 2012 sculpture of a bike wheel, like a nicked Olympic ring, is impossibly locked round a baluster).
Along the way, Ian Hamilton Finlay’s 1997 screenprint ‘For the Temples of the Greeks’ – which links the modern and ancient worlds via classical orders and warfare – takes umbrage elegantly. Meanwhile, Michel Auder’s ‘The Games: Olympic Variations’ (1984), reduces – or perhaps raises – footage of the Los Angeles Games to an onslaught of cropped and pixelated, high-performance
While enjoying the entertainment on offer, you may wonder whether contemporary art, even the angry stuff, isn’t just a symptom of the problem the exhibition identifies. A tone of wry humour suggests as much, given that the show comes with its own merchandise, including a natty book bag bearing a logo of crushed Olympic rings. It seems even cynics need souvenirs.