Holly Ward, "Operation Podium"

When Vancouver, BC, poet laureate Brad Cran read the contract he'd have to sign with the Cultural Olympiad, he stopped at this clause: "The artist shall at all times refrain from making any negative or derogatory remarks respecting VANOC [the Vancouver Organizing Committee], the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Olympic movement generally, Bell and/or other sponsors associated with VANOC." Cran turned down the invitation to participate, since he wanted to deliver a protest poem against sexism in ski jumping (no ladies).

Vancouver has a proud history of protest, but none of that appeared on the televised Olympics coverage. At first, the people of Vancouver rallied against little pens on the streets that were going to be called "free speech zones"; the pens stayed but were given the (darker) new name "safe assembly areas." It's all fodder for artists, and they found ways to reflect it without being smacked down.

In an odd loophole, funding contracts for visual-art organizations didn't contain the content-censoring clause that literary and performing artists got—at least according to the VANOC contract with Vancouver's Contemporary Art Gallery, which Vancouver artist Holly Ward took as a starting point for her piece Operation Podium. Ward was part of a group show called An Invitation to an Infiltration, organized by Seattle curator Eric Fredericksen (of Western Bridge), which turned sideways the usual convention of institutional critique (when artists critique galleries or museums). Here, the artists jostled with each other as well as with outside forces, competing for attention and space, interrupting each other in the room, moving and changing their work as the show progressed. (Backbiting between artists happens in all group exhibitions, but usually it's hidden.) One artist team (Hadley + Maxwell) knocked over another artist's sculpture and filmed an erect penis rubbing yet another's installation.

Ward's Operation Podium targeted the Olympics, and the Olympics gave it legs by nearly censoring it. The sculpture was cases of Pepsi stacked in the shape of a podium—to the specific dimensions of the 1968 Olympic podium where black-power activists raised their fists. Anyone who came into the gallery could tear into Ward's sculpture and take a Pepsi. People helped themselves, and the sculpture was replenished to keep its form (bottomless refills). "We bought $800 worth of Pepsi with VANOC money," Ward said.

The Olympics were sponsored by Coke. And though there was nothing in the VANOC contract limiting the content of the art, there was a clause against "ambush marketing," a term for promoting a brand that isn't a sponsor. Lawyers ultimately decided the sculpture could dispense its protest cola. recommended