Martin Luther King Park – 27th July 2012

On July 24th I began my journey to Martin Luther King Park, Paris by walking from the Olympic Village in London to St Pancras, followed by a walk from Gare Du Nord in Paris to Batignolles. I began by asking one of the ‘games makers’ for a bit of advice;

Neville – Excuse me sir, can I ask a bit of advice?

Games Maker -of course you may – I will try to help

Neville – If I wanted to get as far away from the Olympic Games as possible, where would you recommend I go?

Games Maker – [Laughs] Timbucktoo – no, no, I am joking being serious, what can I do?

Neville – no, I am being serious, where do you think I should go if I want to get away from all this hype?

Games Maker – pointless going into the city –

Neville – do you think I have to leave London?

Games Maker – quite possibly, quite possibly, yes

Neville – leave England?

Games Maker – well fortunately there’s not stuff going on it all parts of the country. There’s stuff going on in Scotland, There’s stuff going on in Wales, there’s stuff going on in Weymouth…… France.

Neville– France?

Games Maker – Its a difficult question to answer. Why are you finding all this too stressful?
I then proceeded on my walk through the Carpenters Road Estate, along Roman Road, Hoxton, City Road, speaking to several people on route. Twenty-four hours later I found myself in the wonderful Martin Luther King Park. The park has been the first thing developed and opened to the public in a huge area of land, which shared a very similar history to the Olympic Park in Stratford – both having been former railway yards and sidings with industrial buildings. The park was everything you would imagine a very successful community park to be [the film to follow] where the regeneration of housing in the adjacent areas has followed on from building a community and responding to local needs. Very little sign if any of the site’s previous ambitions to host the Olympics and seemingly little interest in the games. After filming on Friday 27th I did try to see if I could find a bar which was screening the opening ceremony. None were but I managed to persuade one bar owner to switch channels – what resulted was a really interesting hour long conversation. Next post.


The Greatest Distance – finally selected

Had Paris won the bid to host the Olympic Games they were scheduled to begin with the opening ceremony penciled in for the 27th July. Instead based on a mere 4 votes out of 104, cast by people we have little idea of, the 27th will instead see London hosting that ceremony. But what has happened to the location in Paris marked out for the games? And if the subtext of the Olympics is regeneration and legacy how has Paris developed. Indeed given the economic state of affairs does Paris look back with some relief at missing out?

The selection panel discussed these ideas and finally felt that Martin’s proposal offered the most potential. So On Tuesday the 24th I will begin with my walk from the Athletes Village in Stratford/Leyton and make for St Pancras.


The greatest possible distance from the Opening Ceremony for the 2012
London Olympic Games is Batignolles, in the 17th arrondissement of

Paris was one of the five cities shortlisted to hold the games and was
widely seen as the favourite to win the bid. On 6 July 2005 it lost
the final round of voting to London (50-54). The tiny distance of four
votes leads to the huge distance of alternative possibilities.

Had the Paris bid been successful, the athletes’ village would have
been built in Batignolles on wasteland belonging to SNCF, the French
national railway. This land is currently being regenerated with
housing, retail and offices around a centre park, the Martin Luther
King garden.

Batignolles and Stratford are therefore separated by the infinite
distance of the counter-factual yet one has continued to echo the
other. This raises interesting questions about how much of a catalyst
for regeneration the Olympics really are.

You should start as close to the Olympic Village in Stratford as
possible and walk to St Pancras following the line of the railway as
much as possible. You should then take the Eurostar (which will stop
at Stratford International) to Paris and walk to Parc
Martin-Luther-King in Batignolles to coincide with the start of the
Opening Ceremony.

It would be intriguing to compare the permeability of public space
around both parks and whether, by being disconnected from the
Olympics, Batignolles as managed to reconnect with its people.


The greatest Distance Panel Discussion – Danielle Arnaud Gallery – 8th June 2012 – Audio 1

blog mp3

On the 8th June six panelists, David Lillington, Sarah Butler, Bill Drummond, Danielle Arnaud, Jason Wood, Sam Wilkinson, spent three hours looking through and discussing the 100+ proposals received for The Greatest Distance Project. This audio is one of two edited glimpses into those discussions. The second will be posted in the next few days

Panel discussion and proposal selection

On June the 8th a selection panel of six people met in the Danielle Arnaud Gallery in Kennington, London to discuss and select the proposal they wished me to fulfil. The Panel included, from left to right; Writer and critic, David Lillington, Novelist and director of Urban Words, Sarah Butler, Artist and writer Bill Drummond, curator Danielle Arnaud, Archaeologist and sports historian, Jason Wood, Arts Consultant Sam Wilkinson.

With more than 100 great proposals, they spent several hours reading through and discussing each, finally making a shortlist of about six. I was then asked to do further research and report back to them before they made their final selection.
The panel have now made that choice and I will begin my journey on July 23rd 2012 and over the next few days we will post some of the discussions as audio files


Dear Neville,

In response to how far away from the Olympics you should be, my answer is that you should be as close as you can be physically, but in another World psychologically.

My suggestion is that you spend your time in one or more of the dozens of nursing homes for older people which surround the Olympic Park.

In this country we’ve privatised our care of older people in the same way that we’ve privatised the Olympics. Like the Olympics, in care homes you’ll find people from all over the world – working there because people whose cultural heritage is English won’t work for such poor wages, doing such thankless work.

The Olympics is about celebrating the body beautiful; it’s so much easier to look at healthy bodies – including healthy disabled bodies – than having to think about our elders who are no longer considered part of our society because they are physically and / or mentally unable to look after themselves any more.

For thee hours observe what goes on: talk to the staff and the elders they are looking after. Their lives are rich, they will have rich stories to tell – far richer than the story of someone beating a world record and winning a medal.

There is a crisis in care for older people in this country; billions of pounds is needed to create a system which works; money which politicians will happily spend on the Olympics.

Apparently interest in reviving the Olympic Games was first shown by the Greek poet and newspaper editor Panagiotis Soutsos in his poem ‘Dialogue of the Dead’ in 1833.

Rather than spend three hours with those in their prime, spend it with those who are close to death and the people who care for them.

Best wishes,



Hello Neville

Below please find some half-formed thoughts for your project – a response to your call for alternative olympic options, your ‘furthest away’ project.  As you will see I haven’t taken this literally, as in distance of miles, as where I am suggesting is a relatively short distance from ‘the park’ but this was a conceptual journey I took one morning as I pondered your suggestion and your reasons …

inclusivity/exclusivity – who should Neville be with?
a zoo – which/where?
cheetah – the fastest mammal on earth (name derived from chita, hindi word for spotted one); average speed 75 km/hr (46.6 mph), top speed 112 km/hr (69.6mph – roughly our motorway speed)
(although peregrin falcons are actually faster at 200mph)
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cheetah facts travel to Whipsnade Zoo (or whichever Zoo you choose but this seems to be the main one for cheetahs in the UK) at 46.6mph, occasionally bursting to 69.6mph for short periods; try and run as fast as possible on arrival (record your speed); spend next three hours (can be longer/shorter, over a period of days or whatever you consider most appropriate to your research of the animals/own concerns but needs to be a specifically chosen time period and documented as such, with timings noted etc) observing the cheetah’s movement; what do you learn, what do you think; record visually and textually your own reactions (and those of the cheetahs to you if they start to notice your presence as you stay observing over time); document own movements as well as those of the cheetahs (instinctive as well as receptive) … their awareness of you, yours of them, their total unawareness of the olympics, your total immersion (at the time) in the cheetahs as opposed to immersion in all things olympic

… the fastest mammals on earth observed and documented in captivity …
in preparation, find out all your can about these mammals; practice running fast (train perhaps?); what you think you need/consider essential and what they need (have) to survive; anything and everything you think relevant and that might enhance your experience of the cheetahs … how are they a part and apart from their environment – and you?  (‘you’re a part of it’)
a shared world, a human world?
conservation and captivity, commercialisation and conservation, measures of control and why perhaps we need to conserve them in the first place?
why are we ‘conserving’ the games, whose benefit first and foremost?
speed of cheetahs and speed of athletes … what are we playing at???


Lovely project.
Haven’t able to quite formulate my ideas into a coherent whole but here are a couple of thoughts:Emotional, philosophical and ideological distance seem to me to be the greatest possible.The rhetoric of the olympics is one of total inclusivity but I have never been convinced by this. However it’s difficult to argue against rhetoric especially when it is as entrenched as in this case. What it means though is that I find it hard to think of a destination that the weavers of rhetoric could not claim was included.The other thought that I have had is that the olympics, sport, sporting events are all about lines: lanes, tracks distances, it’s very linear.Of course the logo is an exception but I’ve always thought that the logo was lying to us.Anyway, to my not entirely formed ideas.I think that the greatest distance is expressed by doing something different, “wrong”, other, at the epicentre. It’s the flower down the barrel of the gun in Hungary or the standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square. So what about a circle, or circles (5 interlocking ones?!) of people right at the middle of the olympic village knitting squares for a blanket. No competition, totally collaborative, creating something which will be anonymous and will form a crucial but equal part of a whole. No prize, no credit but a tiny thing without which the final finished product could not function.Secondly, a Quaker Meeting, again right at the heart of the village. A circle of people sitting in silence, speaking when they are moved to do so, acting according to their inner sense of what’s right, no rules, no leader, no referee, and no winner.There. Thank you for the opportunity to think about this in such depth.Oh, one more even less formed thought. If the olympic village is not an option what about a rural Welsh chapel. Don’t know why that feels appropriate. Just does.All best and thanks again.
Hi Neville,
This is in personal capacity in between various family tasks!I’d suggest meeting members of the Tibetan community in the UK for a cup of tea.  This time last year protesters highlighted the situation in Tibet during the torch relay but in Beijing itself voices of dissent were absent. I think the chat with the Tibetans would highlight a sense of humanity behind the headlines, would be a starting point for thinking about protest and unheard voices at the 2012 Olympics (local and global), and in contrast to the event itself would be simple and cost effective (a tube ride and a walk).My daughter Ella (age 9) suggested either scuba diving to the bottom of the ocean (because the Olympics are not underwater and the Olympians are not cheered on by fish) or visit her bed (because it’s quiet and cosy).Some great other ideas on your site.
All the bestTom

Hi Neville,

I have had a few thoughts about your project, as follows:

1: Distance in time and space measures the gap between success and failure, especially in the Olympic context, where fractions of fractions of seconds or barely perceptible differences in stride can decide between medallists and those whose names will not be heard again.

2: Because of this situation – that less than a tenth of a second can, for an athlete, decide between global success and lucrative sponsorship deals, or nothing – the distance between the achievement of Olympic ideals and being considered merely an ‘also ran’, a ‘failure’, is miniscule.

3: The ‘greatest distance’ between Olympic failure and success can therefore be a question not of thousands of miles, but of hairs’ breadths. Perhaps the nature of these distances, where physically negligible distances measure out vast social chasms would be worth exploring.

4: Perhaps this might involve measuring the distances between winning and losing Olympic performances in real, everyday places, to heighten awareness of the tiny judgements deciding participants’ fates. Perhaps you might visit those who narrowly failed in selection for national teams, or sportsmen who missed their big breaks by seconds or millimetres.

5: Perhaps this ‘winner takes all’ culture could be examined elsewhere. Might we try to determine and measure the precise difference between a hugely valuable and a worthless artwork, or that between a prizewinning and overlooked book. Perhaps you could track down the boxer who may have never quite got the match he needed to put himself in the running for titles, or the songwriter whose recordings were *almost* released by several different record labels, but never quite achieved release.

6: Perhaps, in the end, these times and distances, the length of a flea or the duration of a blink, also determine other kinds of success and failure.

7: Others who might be found could include: the inventor who is a few months ahead of the curve and loses the rights to his invention before its real value becomes clear; the scientist who answers the question neither media nor corporation is yet interested in having answered; the novelist whose book fell just outside the shortlist of a major prize; the jobseeker who always comes second on the shortlist of candidates.

8: The greatest distance? That between the success and achievement celebrated in the Olympics is all too often a question of negligible differences rather than great gulfs between the abilities of the participants, yet the rewards are not proportionally distributed. In this, at least, might it be said that the Olympics accurately reflect the values of the cultures that stage them?

I hope this is of some use in your new project: I’ll be fascinated to see how it develops in July!

Best wishes,



Submission form Kim Gurney


Neville –

We suggest that you go to Mount Hiei overlooking Kyoto in Japan and see if you can meet with one of the Kaihigyo monks – spiritual athletes from the Tendai Buddhist Sect. These monks wear course straw sandals, an all white outfit and a special long rolled straw hat and they undergo an intensive physical and mental training to run the equivalent of a 1000 day marathon over seven years.  These extraordinary running monks and the long Buddhist tradition that they are part of is as far away from the competitive and commercial spirit of the Olympic games as we can imagine. We visited Mount Hiei a few years ago and caught glimpses of the terrain that they run. A 1000 day marathon stretches our comprehension but it is for the most part done with a high degree of privacy as well as privation.

You should probably travel to Kyoto by the most energy efficient means available to you –a merchant ship from the UK to Osaka and then hitch hike to Mount Hiei?

You should endeavour to find out as much as you can about the monks and to record or document your experience in such a way that you or a specialist in the subject can give a lecture/presentation in the UK following your return – to which we would obviously like to be invited to satisfy our own curiosity and fascination with these monks.

You will find more information on the internet or by reading The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei by John Stevens.

This gives an idea of their training regime:

1st year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2-mile marathons, beginning at 1:30 a.m., each day after an hour of prayer

2nd year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2 mile marathons

3rd year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2 mile marathons

4th year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2 mile marathons – performed twice

5th year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2 mile marathons – performed twice

On the 700th day, the monks undergo a 9 day fast without food, water, rest or sleep – a mind-boggling feat which would result in certain death for most human beings, before having a short rest of a few weeks and increasing their gruelling schedule

6th year: 100 consecutive days of 37.5 mile marathons

7th year: 100 days of 52.2 mile marathons and 100 days of 26.2 mile marathons.

All the best     Mark and Tamiko


The furthest distance for me is in the polar ideas that guide what we as humans believe are worthy.. For me it’s in my magic spot at PP(real name not disclosed as we want to keep it pristine!!) leaning against my rock which has stood sentinel for eons and contemplating the true rings of existence..

Cycles      soil water air

Connectedness    everything is connected to everything else

Energy Flow  from the Sun to all living things

Relationships  food chains animals plants

Interdependence  everything depends on everything else

It’s having the freedom to WONDER at the awesomeness on the eagle soaring from its lofty towers, the migrating whale following ancient migrating routes to its mating grounds, the tenaciousness of the kangaroo resisting human intrusion, the clarion call of the currawong reminding us just how tenuous the threads that bind us to the greater whole can be so easily broken.. And I count my blessing that I have the luxury of this time t reflect that I’m not in a war zone, searching for food to feed my family and that I have shelter at close of day .Stewardship, tolerance, ,inclusiveness adn harmony ( the antithesis of competition, corporate greed and all the pomp that accompanies it)   ..The urgency to reconnect with the true rings of existence is lost in a fractured world of corporate greed.  Musings from a special place in the southern hemisphere.!!!!!



Hi Neville,

this has been a subject occupying my mind since the
announcement of the games in 2008.
My proposal or brief for you is
the: Budget Olympic Movement
It won’t place you in a geographic
location rather a moral position. Take the 1000 materials fee and spend it
trying to complete as many Olympic
disciplines as possible before the opening event 2012. Perhaps finishing
the 100m as the ceremony opens.
1000 equates to Using just 0.00009999999999999999% of the
government estimated cost of staging the Olympics .
Geography  as metaphor -“claim the
moral high ground”



Dear Neville,

Our mutual friend Bevis Bowden suggested I write to you.  I have been working on an Olympic themed installation for some months, and had wondered about submitting its location for you for The Greatest Possible Distance.  However due to unfortunate delays in putting it together I think it’s not suitable for submission within your understandable time frame, mainly as what I’m doing can’t really be made public until I’ve completed it (I’ll explain below).  Notwithstanding this, and as I have enjoyed your work on the Olympics so much and particularly like idea behind The Greatest Possible Distance, I thought I’d drop you a line with what I’ve been up to in case you were interested.  I now realise I should have done this well before your deadline – I bet you’re very busy right now, so apologies.

Since the beginning of this year I have been transporting various items into a disused mill building in Docklands, in order to set up a multi-stage installation inside.  The building is abandoned, fenced and patrolled by security guards, so I have done this surreptitiously, without the knowledge of the owners or the security guards who are not allowed inside the building itself.  I am calling the installation Legacy.

Legacy Part One:

I have carried many bags of compost inside, and set up a small allotment in a room on the 7th floor.  I have planted this up with vegetable seeds, and fed by water constantly dripping through the damaged ceiling above and light from the large windows in the room, the seeds have recently started to grow.  The seeds that are now growing there were originally intended for a friend’s plot in Manor Gardens Allotments, the century old allotments that were destroyed in the creation of the Olympic Park.

Legacy Part Two:

I have acquired 200 solar powered toy rowing boats from a factory in China.  A blocked drain on the roof of the building has created a pool area, open to the sky.  I have been transporting the toy boats into the building, and will shortly be releasing them all on this pool.  When the sun shines the boats, one for each of the countries competing at the Olympics, will race each other around this area – rather chaotically if my recent tests are anything to go by.  From this wonderful vantage point you can see the Thames Barrier, the Dome, the lights of the City of London and indeed the Olympic Stadium.

Legacy Part Three:

I will shortly be carrying in a portable battery powered TV / DVD set, an invalid carriage battery and a solar charging panel.  I will set the TV up in a small office room inside the building and play a DVD of the opening ceremony of the Athens Olympics on loop.  Of the 22 buildings built for the Athens 2004 Olympics, 21 are now abandoned and patrolled by security guards, much like the mill building inside which I have been working.

I would hope that the pieces I have installed inside this rather beautiful abandoned building offer a contrast with what is being presented as the legacy of the London 2012 Olympics.

If I had completed this all weeks ago and was therefore able to submit a location to The Greatest Possible Distance, it would be the pool on the roof.  You can to see the Olympic Stadium where the ceremony is taking place quite clearly – certainly any fireworks would be impressive from this point – but the isolation up there is intense due to the extreme journey you have just made.  You have to pass through several (often razor wired) fences, hundred of yards of scrubland while keeping an eye out for the patrolling security guards, work your way into the basement of a very rotten building and from there up to the roof, paying careful attention to the rotten floors.  Once there it is peaceful and picturesque – the building has a majesty and a history, but is as far from what I believe the Olympic Experience has turned into as it is possible to be.

I wish you every success with The Greatest Possible Distance, and look forward to finding out where you end up!

Best wishes,