Olympic tree's 'two-fingered' salute

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There may be no Glastonbury Festival this year but the pair behind one of the event’s standout instillations will next week unveil their contribution to the Olympic celebrations. One that “sticks two fingers up” to the commercial side of the games.

Set design group Block9 has created the installation for the Tree of Light, a two year project that forms part of the Cultural Olympiad.  

The 16 metre structure, described as a “brutalist-generator-slash-tree hybrid” will be the centrepiece for several performances that involve 1,000 dancers and a choir of 600.

Gideon Berger and Stephen Gallagher are the creative team behind Block9, and have created works including a six storey replica of a London tower block with a derailed tube train crashed into it for their Block9 field at Glastonbury.

“There’s a side of the Olympics is high gloss, corporate sponsored, red white and blue, garish, commercial crap that you can’t move for. It’s soul destroying,” Berger said. “The beauty of this project is that it is unrelentingly sticking two fingers up to all of that and us expressing a different side to it.”

The Tree is designed to look like an overgrown concrete and glass industrial facility. “Both Steve and I like dark scary nasty things that are big and awe inspiring,” Berger said. It will have lighting and music effects from electronic musician Matthew Herbert and sound designer James Mather. The project was the brainchild of Henley Festival’s artistic director Stewart Collins.

Berger said it had been their most difficult project “with so many different people and organisations involved. With the Olympiad it had to pass over so many desks”.

The project, which was shipped from Block9’s East London studio on Friday to Oxford where it appears next week, was funded by the Legacy Trust UK.

“The axe was falling as we signed the contract so we were one of the last projects to have received a significant grant. The Arts Council grants are pretty non-existent following the cuts,” Berger said. “The only way to get significant projects is to be picked up by an institution, and other than that it’s festivals.”

Block9 hope The Tree of Life will raise their profile and attract more collaborations with organisations such as the Royal Opera House and the Bregenz Festival. “We’re very keen to get involved with opera,” Berger said.

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