"Olympic Agora" cultural hub now on view at Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

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"Olympic Agora" cultural hub now on view at Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
The Audience by Xavier Veilhan © 2021 – IOC / Yuichi Yamazaki – All rights reserved.

TOKYO.- The first-ever Olympic Agora commemorates the cultural aspect of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, featuring a permanent, site-specific legacy sculpture by French artist Xavier Veilhan; a photography installation by Japanese artist Rinko Kawauchi; multimedia installations by Japanese artist Makoto Tojiki and Canadian studio Moment Factory, respectively; a series of new artworks by Olympian and Paralympian Artists-in-Residence; and an exhibition of treasures from the holdings of The Olympic Museum. Virtual tours and digital offerings unite local and international audiences in the Agora experience.

The President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, drew parallels between sport and art upon his visit to the Olympic Agora in central Tokyo.

About the Agora, the IOC President said: “This is a fantastic demonstration of how, in the Olympic community, we blend sport and culture, which is one of the missions that our founder Pierre de Coubertin gave us and which has its roots in the ancient Games 3,000 years ago.”

“There is a very close link between culture and sport, as these are the two languages that the whole world understands,” Bach added.

Since its initial conception, the Olympic Agora programme has been adapted to ensure staff and visitor safety, in compliance with local and national COVID-19 rules and countermeasures. Onsite visitor numbers are limited and strictly controlled through an online pre-booking system. Installations and activations are complemented by a robust digital programme, including virtual exhibitions available on the Olympic Agora website and The Olympic Museum’s social media channels for local and global audiences.

The inaugural Olympic Agora leads with the landmark commission of a permanent, site-specific sculpture by French artist Xavier Veilhan.

Located throughout Tokyo’s historic Nihonbashi district, the programme features installations by Japanese artists Rinko Kawauchi and Makoto Tojiki, as well as an exhibition of works by six Olympian and Paralympian Artists-in-Residence. In addition, the Olympic Agora presents a participatory multimedia installation by Montreal-based studio Moment Factory and an exhibition of treasures from The Olympic Museum’s collection in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Resulting from Olympic Agenda 2020, the IOC’s strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement, the Olympic Agora realises a key recommendation to “further blend sport and culture” during and between editions of the Olympic Games through onsite and digital culture programmes. Spearheaded by the Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage (OFCH), the IOC’s division for arts, culture and heritage, the project is inspired by the public assembly spaces—or agoras—of Ancient Greece.

OFCH Director Angelita Teo said: “Commemorating the history and enduring cultural impact of the Olympic Movement on the world, the Olympic Agora serves as a hub for the cultivation, exploration and promotion of the Olympic values. In this unprecedented moment, the Olympic Agora is a symbol of determination, overcoming challenges and international cooperation; of the power of sport and art to carry us in times of crisis.”

To mark the opening of the Olympic Agora ahead of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the OFCH commissioned Veilhan, who represented France at the 57th Venice Art Biennale in 2017, to create a permanent installation interpreting the Olympic values. Known for his exhibitions challenging viewers’ perceptions, Veilhan presents a life-sized sculptural work entitled The Audience, consisting of five human figures of various ages, genders and nationalities gathered in sport spectatorship. This legacy sculpture was unveiled on 30 June, a day before the public opening of the Olympic Agora.

Veilhan said of The Audience: “The sculpture is intentionally a tribute to the audience of the Olympic Games, going beyond the sporting feats that are usually celebrated and bringing the focus to non-heroic figures, to highlight the importance of the public.” The artist continued: “This year in particular, the public—the audience—is somewhat the missing star of the Olympic Games. The Audience is not only the title of my work, but is also the summary of the current situation that we are all undeniably living through. It is for me a reason to give existence to this international public, who may be absent physically but all the more watching throughout the world. The sculpture will be its ambassador.”

Teo remarked on the artist’s permanent commission for the first Olympic Agora: “One of the most important things we have done through the Olympic Agora is to leave the legacy of the Olympic spirit in Tokyo. The Audience, for example, is especially designed to be welcoming and inclusive, to invite people to come up-close and personal.” She added: “I hope more people even after the Games will come to the Olympic Agora and learn more about the Olympic Movement.”

At the Olympic Agora, leading Japanese photographer Rinko Kawauchi also presents 16 never-before-seen photographs from Olympism Made Visible, a global fine-art photography project launched by the OFCH to illustrate the impact of sport in community service. Commissioned by the OFCH in 2019, the exhibition, entitled What Is the Joy of the Future? Works from Olympism Made Visible, documents an initiative of the Japanese Olympic Committee to connect Olympic athletes with disaster-affected communities following Japan’s 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.

Nearby at Fukutoku Plaza, Makoto Tojiki’s large-scale light sculpture, Solidarity and Collaboration, takes inspiration from the relay race in track and field. Prompted by the global pandemic, the installation, conceived especially for the Olympic Agora, features two monumental figures in relay motion, in a timely exploration of collaboration, shared responsibility and human potential in team play.

The OFCH also presents The Noren Curtains, an exhibition of original works by five Olympian and one Paralympian artists: Ciara Michel (Great Britain, Volleyball, London 2012); Slaven Dizdarević (Slovak Republic, Track and Field, Beijing 2008); Kelly Salchow MacArthur (USA, Rowing, Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004); Gregory Burns (USA, Swimming, Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000); Roald Bradstock (Great Britain, Track and Field, Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988); and Hannah Wilkinson (New Zealand, Football, London 2012, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020). In a tribute to the Japanese noren, the traditional curtain-like fabric typically hung in shop entrances, each artist contributes a series of panel “curtains” on the Olympic spirit and values. Each curtain series illustrates works in the artist’s preferred medium, spanning photography, painting, graffiti and graphic design.

“All my life I have been an artist and an athlete—two seemingly polar opposite pursuits,” said Bradstock, who represented Great Britain in the men’s javelin event at the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics. “Then 25 years ago, I realised that sport and art are far more similar than they are different. When I came to this realisation, everything changed for me. It changed my approach to my sports training and how and what I created in my art studio,” said Bradstock.

In addition, The Olympic Museum in Lausanne, the world’s largest archive of the Olympic Games, showcases the special exhibition The Olympic Spirit. The exhibition celebrates some of the most iconic moments in the history of the Games, showcasing 145 artefacts from The Museum’s collection in three main sections: “History and symbols”, “Olympic values expressed by athletes” and “The unifying power of Olympism”. Highlights include a complete set of Summer Games medals and torches, including the medals for Tokyo 2020, and select costumes from past Opening Ceremonies.

The Montreal-based studio Moment Factory also presents the interactive multimedia installation Podium Memories. Reflecting on moments of perseverance, solidarity and team play at the Olympic Games through the years, the installation features three deconstructed Olympic podiums, which visitors are invited to “activate” with their silhouettes in dynamic shapes and vibrant colours. By moving their bodies in relation to the podiums, visitors can browse through a curated display of rarely seen images, animated pictograms and audiovisual footage from the Olympic archives.

Additionally, residents and visitors to Nihonbashi have the opportunity to view iconic posters from the Olympic Games throughout the district, as well as a large-scale Olympic gold medal installation at the atrium at Mitsui Tower. As the Olympic Agora’s Official Partner, Mitsui Fudosan delivers comprehensive support to the Olympic Agora complex in Nihonbashi.

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