Forensic1

Forensic architecture is a research team of architects and professionals of other disciplines who investigate violations of human rights, war crimes, or unsolved cases (disappearances, ongoing court cases etc.). They often investigate the remains of buildings and then build virtual models or even 1:1 physical replicas of spaces in order to shed light into cases that governments or the police chose to ignore.

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The cases presented are about people who are either related to some case of political controversy or were victims of racism or other hate crimes that have been covered up by international agents of power. As a result of these investigations, it is rather obvious that many of the Forensic Architecture researchers have put themselves at risk or are already in blacklists, unwelcome to the countries where the crimes happened.

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This is an exhibition that presents through diverse visualisations the ongoing research on cases like the disappearance of the 43 Mexican students in 2015, Gaza bombings and Palestinian youth shot in cold blood and even the drowning of African and Middle Eastern refugees in the Mediterranean sea (the latter as part of Forensic Oceanography research). The representations include text, images, diagrams, videos and virtual and physical models. The facts are presented in a scientific and seemingly emotionally-detached way, even though the intense violence presented to the viewer, makes one often uncomfortable, to say the least.

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The large-scale diagrams have very beautiful aesthetics and regardless of what they represent have some artistic value in themselves. One can detect the architectural integrity in the means of representation. However, this fact already presents some problematic aspects. Namely, there is a strange dynamic between the tragicness of the stories and their aesthetically pleasing representations.

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Naturally the Forensic Architecture team has already thought of this paradox and presented it in one of the exhibits, on the panel of “Forensic Aesthetics” where they explain the original definition of the Greek word Aesthetic (Αισθητική-αίσθηση). As a Greek myself I can confirm it means “that which refers to, or is perceived by the senses”. Their argument is that the evidence has to be reviewed by the senses and therefore there is always some degree of aesthetics involved. By doing so they acknowledge the potentially problematic contradiction of the tragic topics of investigation and the beautified means of presenting them to the public. It looks as if they are trying to protect themselves against the critics who might say that it is rather unethical to insert an artistic dimension to tragic death, political unfairness and war destruction.

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I am not really trying to undermine the validity of their research or the importance of politics in the arts. However, evidence that this has happened already is part of this exhibition. In the Yagzel exhibit that takes up most of the first room upon entrance, is mentioned that German authorities dismissed the results of this investigation because it was presented in Documenta 14 (one of the leading contemporary art exhibitions in the world). And exactly there is where the contradiction is: if the purpose is to shed light on these cases why are they presented as art exhibits. What happens to the team’s credibility in providing evidence especially now that they are nominated for this year´s Turner Prize?

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Regardless of how interesting and important this work is, it is nonetheless riding the fashionable train of compassion for the those in trouble. Architects like Rem Koolhaas have romanticized or tragically even fetishised the slums of Lagos and Rio De Janeiro and there is something deeply unethical in observing people’s harsh lives as a universal phenomenon. Especially when one is part of the elite.

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Ai Wei Wei has been even more tasteless when he wrapped celebrities in shiny emergency blankets for refugees in Berlin a year and a half ago. Maybe it is rather unfair to compare these mega-stars with Forensic Architecture who obviously do not have Ai Wei Wei’s fame and fortune and also are a collective, not an individual. Still, artwork that revolves around the suffering of others always makes me rather sceptical

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The exhibition will be on until the 13th of May at the ICA

Have a look Here and Here

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Gursky1

I first came across Andreas Gursky’s work when I saw two of his photographs at the Constructing Worlds exhibition at the Barbican in 2014. Before I even read the caption of “Montparnasse” (left in the image below) which explained how the picture was processed, I knew it had undergone some sort of digital manipulation. Both the human eye and the camera lens distort the image at the ends therefore the building could never be seen as perfectly square as it looks. Later on I read that one of Gursky’s firm beliefs is that: “Reality can only be shown by constructing it, montage and manipulation paradoxically bring us “closer to the truth”.

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The philosophical question that inevitably comes right after is: what is truth? How do we define it and, ultimately is it really that important.

Bear with me in this seemingly unrelated mention of the Acropolis, or to be more precise the Parthenon in Athens, which has been pronounced the most perfect temple ever built since ancient times. This is mainly because of the optical corrections that the ancients invented when they realised that the eye naturally distorts what it sees, therefore no line can be seen as straight. Except if it is not straight.

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In fact if the distortion is inverted, and the line is bent the opposite way of how our eyes capture it, the brain is tricked into thinking it is straight. The Parthenon looks perfect because it has no straight lines and all its components are slightly distorted. In other words perfection is achieved through deceit.

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Because of my architectural training this is how I read the way that Andreas Gursky chooses to focus his interests. And it is rather obvious that I really like his pictures.

Of course their large scale which invokes a sense of awe to the viewer also plays a part. Regardless of what the curators of this exhibition say about Gursky’s work “challenging our ideas of how photography represents reality”, even if we do not choose to work our brains hard on philosophical questions, these photographs are also simply spectacular to look at.

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And they do sum up in a straightforward visual manner, many issues that have to do with the environment, architecture, the concept of collective existence, art and fashion. They also deal with more politically charged issues that have to do with capitalism, mass production, pollution and deterioration of natural resources.

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Finally there are images that seem more cryptic, like the ceiling of an airport or the blow-up of a grey carpet. One wonders if these photographs have been created in appreciation of geometry and texture or if they are a quasi-philosophical exploration with zen nuances.

One thing is certain: that Gursky’s pictures are very appealing because of both their scale and their themes that fluctuate between absolute simplicity and obscure abstraction.

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One may choose a secondary reading into them or just enjoy their visual qualities. However architecture is very present in the majority of these photographs. Which proves the way that the man-made environment and architecture provide much more than a backdrop for life.

Through many of these pictures is clear that architecture is a product of the politics that create it and in its turn it affects deeply the people whose lives unfold within it.

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Gursky has said about photography that it is not just a way to document the world, but rather a way to represent his own ideas about it. His sceptical position against impartial documentation (if there is such a thing) is proven by his very personal view of what he sees around him. A view that we are also invited to share by observing his pictures. But somehow, this very subjective view of things touches a chord in many people. It is not clear to me if this is because most people see its importance similar to what happens with classical music for example, or if it is because it speaks an easy language that is clear to most, in a way that pop culture does. Both or neither, this is an exhibition not to be missed.

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The exhibition will be on until the 22nd of April 2018

Visit Hayward Gallery’s website here

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Top Left: “Love motion” by Rhys Coren/ Top Right: “Child Hood2 by Collectif coin/ Bottom photos: “Spectral” By Katarzyna Maljka and Joachim Stugocki.

 

Lumiere London was an interesting experience. It was very cold on both nights that I went and all traffic was stopped in most major West End streets. So we could all walk in the middle of the street and have a totally different perspective of the city. An anarchic pattern of movement emerged that was not dictated by cars and traffic but from the random trajectories of people.

Walking down Regent street towards Piccadilly Circus I was even reminded of 28 days later because of the car-less streets. Still, regardless of the fact that we were not moving according to the usual London rules, we were as consumerist as ever.

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Left: “Was that a dream” by Cedric Le Borgne/ Middle: View of Regent Street/ Right: “Harmonic portal” by Christ Plant

Once I had started visiting the sites there was no stopping me. I had to see them all, as if I was collecting them, and so were a lot of others with maps or their special lumiere apps on their phones. There were also plenty of photographers with tripods looking very serious. In fact at Piccadilly Circus I saw a man filming “Voyage” (by Camille Griss and Leslie Epsztein) with both a camera on a tripod and a smart phone, looking at the two screens simultaneously.

I have strong suspicions that this person did not engage emotionally with with the art. A sign of our times where people photograph their food when they go to a restaurant to the point that they forget to eat it while it is still warm.

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Left: “Reflektor” by Studio Roso/ Middle: “IFO” by Jacques Rival/ Right: “Lampounette” by Tilt

Some of the people were looking at the lights but most were looking at them through their lenses or on their phone screens. Which explains how often art and architecture, look better on pictures than they do in reality. There is no doubt that something being photogenic adds to its value and marketability.

So, some of the lumiere exhibits photographed well but did not produce a memorable experienced immediately. Some were both compelling in person as they were on “film” and a few of them were hardly noticeable in pictures but the actual experience was magical when there. Like [M]ondes by Atsara on Mount Street Gardens in Mayfair. Lines of light were projected on a building’s façade through a cluster of tense wires giving the effect of fireflies. The experience was enhanced because in the background one could faintly hear the sound of another installation, Illumaphonium (by Michael Davis) 

where the viewers interacted with the exhibit to produce a sweet soundtrack that reminded me of summer nights by the beach, when actually I was literally freezing.

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Left: “Origin of the World bubble” by Miguel Chevalier/Middle photos: “[M]ondes” by Atsara/ Right: “Illumaphonium” by Michael Davis

Another of my favourite installations, was the one I encountered the following day at the rather sci-fi environment of Kings’ Cross. It was Aether (by Architecture Social Club and Max Cooper) where lights were projected from two sources on a grid of metal rods accompanied by an electronic soundtrack.

King’s Cross’ large housing blocks around which the exhibits were located, were more impressive than the art itself though. They looked as if they grew out of the ground all at the same time like the buildings in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil dream sequence. They are orderly and new but they lacked the strange refinement of cities which emerge organically and not as part of an incredibly expensive project.

I was looking at the art and thinking of politics and regeneration. What was the meaning of this elaborate gesture in art installations? The traffic was stopped which definitely had an effect on commerce. Was this advertising for the sponsors? Or was the whole shebang aiming to brand London, making it a unique tourist destination which competes with the other European cities.

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Top Left: “Waterlicht” by Daan Roosegaarde/ Top right: “Aether” by Architecture Social Club with Max Cooper/ Bottom Left: ” Bottle Festoon” by Community patrners across London Boroughs/ Bottom Right: “Entre les rangs” by Rami Bebawi/ Kanva

On Piccadilly Circus the organisers did not or could not turn off the lights of the massive video billboards right next to “Voyage”. The eye was inevitably drawn to them as they were much brighter. The art seemed almost irrelevant and faded compared to the power of the advertisement. And that was rather symbolic of the city as an unstoppable machine with its purpose, above all, to urge us to consume.

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Top Left: “Grabber” by Mader Wiermann/ Top Right “Dot” by Phillippe Morvan/ Bottom Right: “Voyage” by Camille Bross and Leslie Epsztein

Paul-Catherall8

When I first came across this exhibition of Paul Catherall’s linocut prints, I was drawn to it by its theme. Brutalism is a staple for architects along with the colour grey, black clothes and weird glass frames. Following my regular style of not researching what I was going to see, I entered Eames Fine Art Gallery.  The first impression was good and weirdly familiar. It was only when I went back home and looked into the artist’s work that I realised I had seen posters of his prints in the tube.

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Catherall’s work is focused on London and it is beautiful but also legible. His choice of colour is often unpredictable and surreal but the landmarks are recognisable. Therefore it was not a surprise that TFL commissioned him for a series of posters that highlight these landmarks and their accessibility by London Transport.

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Some of the prints in the Brutalism exhibition are more abstract than others and even though I like his work in general, these abstract ones were more interesting to me. Shapes and surfaces of the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre and the Lloyd’s building have been de-constructed and recomposed with the use of vibrant colours in a very inspiring way.

After reading a couple of interviews of the artist, I understood better his ethos and how it is related to architecture. Architecture is a practical, literally down to earth, art. Architects create buildings that need to be inhabited and used by people. This is, or rather should be, their first priority. Sometimes when the architecture is really really good, it suggests new ways of moving through space or even living. It can be inspiring and uplifting, but it always has to follow some rules. It needs to provide a safe environment that accommodates people’s needs and quite often, this very restriction is the source of its beauty.

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Architects who have aspired to create high art by disregarding people’s needs enter a territory of thin ice. Their appropriation of the building as their own artistic creation is merely a proof of their conceitedness and self absorption. Architecture’s success should be measured by the user’s happiness not the architect’s need for self expression.

When Paul Catherall speaks about enjoying his commissions regardless of the restrictions that they pose, like their need to be legible and relatable, I see his fascination with architecture and also why architects enjoy his prints.

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Naturally not all art has to be like that. In fact we need controversial art that defies all rules and tests the boundaries, especially in a world that becomes increasingly conservative and close-minded. However the world needs less self-absorbed artists who care only about themselves and more like Paul Catherall who is devoted to his craft and enjoys communicating that with others.

Maybe I enjoyed this work a lot because it was a exhibition full of buildings in strange colours and I am after all an architect, I cannot help myself. Anyway, if you are south of the river during this weekend, go have a look. You only have a couple of days left.

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Eames Fine Art Gallery’s is on

58 Bermondsey Street
London
SE1 3UD

Documenta1

Documenta is an art exhibition that has been organised and presented in Kassel, Germany, every 5 years since 1955. The reason behind the very first one was to disperse Germany’s cultural darkness due to Nazism after the war. Through the years though it has developed into one of the most important exhibitions of contemporary art worldwide, possibly because of its non-commercial nature. Usually the event is curated towards exploring a specific political, cultural or sociological theme, for example feminism or migration.

Documenta aims to showcase the work of artists from all around the world and regardless of the fact that its centre has always been in Kassel, the latest exhibition’s concept evolved around the idea of moving the whole event in Athens, Greece. Adam Szymczyk the artistic director of Documenta had been coming and staying in Greece for a number of years, as have many artists from all over the world who are drawn to it by the popular idea that Athens is the new artistic centre of Europe.

 

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To be precise Athens has been referred to as the new Berlin so often that the local street artists write graffiti that reads: “This is NOT the new Berlin” or “Athens is the new Athens”. However the name of the exhibition was decided to be “Learning from Athens”. A contradictory title that along with the absence of representation of a large number of Greek artists, infuriated a significant part of the Greek scene. The exhibition has only a couple of days left before the Athens part is finished (the Kassel part will be open until September 17) but I believe there is much to be said still about it, especially since its creative director has stated that the organisation hopes to “leave something behind it that the city can profit from”.

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Looking into the matter first from the aspect of Athens becoming the coveted place where artists, (especially those from other countries) want to go and live at, the possible results are rather daunting. Being Greek but having lived in London for a decade myself, I have witnessed artists relocating as a first sign of gentrification. The artists choose areas where rents are cheap and the environment feels genuine and inspiring. Then the real-estate agents follow, the area slowly gets a make-over and is sold to a high price to people who can afford it. Simplistic but telling description of gentrification in a couple of phrases. With the way things have developed in Greece for the last few years, one can only wonder if that could ever expand to the scale of a city, or even a whole country.

 

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When I think about the title of the exhibition, “Learning from Athens” again I cannot but wonder, what does it really mean. Athens is a city full of contradictions. It always carries the massively heavy burden of its past, the one that gave to the world the masterpiece of the Acropolis and the concept of Democracy. It also occupies awkwardly a crossroads position between the Eastern and the Western world, being part of Europe but parading with pride a misogynistic, macho, god-fearing religious culture. On top of all of that, on top of the blue sky, the long summers and an always vibrant nightlife, lands the CRISIS. In capital letters because it can be nothing but capital (pun intended) what has changed the lives of all Greeks. The Greeks who have been mocked and criticised by the entire world for not being able to deal with their debt, when the power play of banks and rich nations have been plotting against them. Nor being able to deal with the burden of the leftish revolution that the world expected with Syriza coming to power or the pseudo-Grexit referendum. And then the Syrian refugee influx and entrapment in a country of zero ability to deal with the problem has thickened the plot, increasing both the solidarity and self-organisation but on the other hand heightening the power and righteousness of far-right nationalist parties like Golden Dawn.

 

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In the middle of all that chaos lands Documenta 14 that wants to “Learn from Athens”. Wants to learn from a city which manages to look like it deals with all that and actually has fun as well. “How come the bars and restaurants and cafes are still open and people are having fun?”, “How is it possible that people get on with their lives wrapped in riots, tear gas, graffiti and vandalism?”, the universal scene seems to wonder. How can they be in so much trouble and still seem so cool? This is what they really want to learn. This cannot be learned though, much as they try. Coming to look at Athens from the outside, or even for a few months (maybe even years) from the ‘inside’, is as futile as trying to grasp what it is to be a lion, by observing it in its cage, in the zoo.

 

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I can attest to that, after living for 10 years in London I have a vague idea about Britishness but I cannot really explain what it is to be British. Of course I did not come here from a position of power, with any imported funds. I did not come to London to advertise any supposed superiority in life’s wisdom quoting Anthony Quinn impersonating Zorba the Greek. “Boss, life is trouble, only death is not”.

Going through the galleries of Documenta 14 in Athens I run into many artist friends of mine working as invigilators or gallery assistants. I was pleased to see them and they all told me how they felt excited to be around all that international art and also to have finally a steadily paid job, even if it was only for 4 months. Of course I knew that they would rather be on the other side, that of the celebrated artist sipping wine at the opening, but alas, they were the help.

 

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Adam Szymczyk said at the announcement of Athens as the Documenta location that he wants to leave something behind. Much as I enjoyed strolling through the galleries with my friends, “inhaling” this abundance of art that was mostly imported; supposedly to learn from us but really to subtly patronise us, I was reminded of the 2004 Olympic games. Where so much money was spent into building new sites that were afterwards only left there to rot and crumble.

That was not an exhibition about Athens, it just happened to be there.

 

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Documenta website

An interesting article I read about Documenta

Athenian Panopticon by Iason Athanasiadis

An article in Greek:

Αθηνόραμα : Τα επόμενα χρόνια όλος ο κόσμος της τέχνης θα μιλάει για την Αθήνα της Δέσποινας Ζευκιλή

BBC article:

Can Athens become Europe’s new arts capital

New-tate-1

The new addition to Tate Modern is a building that attracted the attention of the general public before it was even built. After all since its opening in 2000, Tate Modern has been one of the most visited tourist sites in London. The reason for its success is a combination of factors. Its location, its status in the world of art and without a doubt its architecture as well. Herzog and de Meuron did, back then an undeniably good job with it.

New-tate-2_At a time when industrial relics and retrofuturism was just getting to be fashionable they renovated an existing building, previously a power station and turned it to the hugely famous Tate Modern. The brick bulk, the landmark chimney and the cathedral-like Turbine hall compel the visitor immediately. A composition which demonstrates the importance in the simplicity of straightforward architectural gestures. What could the architects come up with that would be equally strong?

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The obvious answer would be at least externally an equally bulky and strict building. So the quasi-pyramidal shape that we watched rise for a few years, was a rather logical decision for a form. It makes me think a bit of children’s blocks and their basic shapes, the rectangle, the pyramid the sphere.

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As a first impression though, the outside of the new building is not as interesting as the interior spaces that it encloses. I am not sure why; Is it maybe because the sequel is never as good as the original? The one good thing that I had to give to this building is that somehow it manages to hide its scale; it seems smaller than it is. When I got myself all the way up to the viewing terrace I realised how high it was because one sees the old Tate modern’s roof from above. This is still a sort of an optical illusion because in my memory the original building seems taller, when actually it is not.

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Entering the new building from its own entrance on Sumner St. the visitor goes past the restaurant to the left and then has a choice, either take a staircase going down towards The Tanks, the basement part of the building that was first opened a few years back, or go up towards the new galleries. The staircases are beautiful, the detailing is impeccable throughout the interior spaces and has a clean slick feel to it. Beautifully finished concrete with no visible paint and simple black metallic rails.

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The route of the visitor is really thought-out well. There are surprises all the way up, little sitting corners, seemingly randomly shaped windows and views as you wind yourself up. Circular stairs, straight stairs design details, inviting corners to sit or balconies one can look over to a foyer at a floor beneath.

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Also the way the two buildings are connected, at three levels with the turbine hall on level 0 and then two bridges, one on level 1 and another one on level 4 also enrich the experience and broaden the choices of how to move inside the galleries.

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Walking through this building though, interesting as it was, had a negative side to it too. Gallery spaces, which by nature are more introvert in order for the visitor to focus on the art on display were too generic and also felt slightly claustrophobic. The spaces that link them, foyers, staircases and such are much more interesting to walk through.

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These connecting spaces had a very weird quality to them as well, the strong voyeuristic character of their windows.

The last 17 years that Tate Modern has existed in this location and as its importance and status increased, so did the value of the land around it.

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New housing developments popped up which are mainly luxury apartments. Most of these buildings with their often wall-to-wall curtain windows wide open to the Tate, pose an interesting contradiction. A large display of design furniture and art visibly showing off their status, while at the same time signs everywhere inside the Tate ask us the visitors, to please respect the neighbours privacy.

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I thought those signs to be very ironic. It is the contradiction of our way of lives really, obsessed with selfies in an ongoing struggle to show off and attract attention. Only to claim retrospectively false modesty along with the request towards the spectator to look elsewhere. Capitalist exhibitionism in denial is what it felt I was observing. And strangely this stayed with me more than the crisply detailed new building.

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Tate Modern web site here

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This year’s Serpentine pavilion was designed by Big, an architectural practice whose main force is the 41 year old Danish architect Bjarke Ingels. The practice’s signature is using simple lines in a bold way to support a conceptual story. Usually there is also a playful element in Big’s projects and the user of the building is urged towards a rather adventurous, at times even childlike behaviour. For example they have designed a waste-to-energy-power plant in Copenhagen with a roof that is in fact a ski slope and the Serpentine pavilion (if it weren’t for health and safety measures in the UK) was originally meant to be climbed to the top.

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Left photo:Copenhagen Power plant CGI by Big

The pavilion, as has been observed by many writers already, is quite beautiful. It encloses the space but but it also “leaks” views to the park from certain angles. The structure does not however manage to protect from nature’s elements very well, but really how many of the pavilions ever did? Similarly as far as its spatial qualities are concerned, like many of its predecessors, it photographs better than it feels when visited.

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This year though I would like to focus on an event that I attended when I went there for the first time, on June 24th one day after UK’s famous referendum that decided the future of the country within the European Union. That strange day, Implicated theatre a group of theatre practitioners, funded by Serpentine Galleries and directed by Frances Rifkin took over the space. Implicated theatre’s performances are based on Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed which is an experimental workshop-based practice that aims to “explore the relationships between political speech and action”1. Usually a scene is presented to the audience who later on is urged to participate in transforming it by taking the place of one of the original actors. The focus usually is underprivileged people and their stories. Their struggles and their interpretation of their experiences within the frame of society and its political structures.

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This particular performance called Towards a Radio Ballad: Songs of the Journey emerged from a year-long collaboration with unionised migrant hotel workers from Unite’s Hotel Workers Branch. As described in Serpentine Gallery’s website: “The sound piece that accompanied the performance, is a sketch working towards a possible Radio Ballad, taking its cue from Charles Parker’s original BBC Radio Ballads, a series that aired from 1958-1964.

The audience was divided in two groups depending on whether they had ever worked in the Services industry or not. Walking freely within the pavilion we were given trays and by holding them the feeling of being a waiter was simulated. The stories of actual migrants who have come to London and worked as waiters were heard in the background. In the actual scene presented by the actors and later on moulded by the audience’s participation, a waiter was cheated out of his tips by the head waiter, a common story of professional abuse of power. I will not go into details on what happened as the experience of it is what really matters.

 

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Photographs by Lewis Ronald

The intellectualisation of a workshop-based performance where everyone’s conclusions are purely personal would diminish the importance of the experience with weak generalisations. In the end though we were all given seats and a microphone went around. People spoke of how they felt and shared thoughts on their being in that particular space as part of the group. Very personal stories were heard that attested oppression and injustice. Migrants’ search for a better life by leaving their country of origin were juxtaposed with the dramatic political events in the country, as the decision of the previous day’s referendum. Ultimately the migrants’ journey instead of easier is going to become much more difficult. Surrounded by the loose boundary of the pavilion, we were confronted with the sad reality of a world that chooses to become more closed-minded and closed-bordered. And the feelings were real, people spoke of their lives and their families passionately and even cried.

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Left photo by Lewis Ronald. Middle and right by the writer

Never did I expect to experience the sharing of real emotions and harsh truths about major political events, especially in a group, within the Serpentine Summer Pavilion. A space which is a product created and consumed by an international cultural and economic elite. Most nights at the pavilion not that many working class people are present, other than the waiters of course. And there is not that much truth spoken by the well-groomed guests that sip cocktails while exchanging empty pleasantries.

June 24th ‘s performance placed a small bomb of controversy within the fabric of the pavilion focusing on the lives of those who stay in the background unseen and uncelebrated. The space of the pavilion did not matter to me that night, not because its architecture was unworthy but because no architecture should be more important than the people who inhabit it.

 

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1. From Implicated Theatre’s website

Serpentine Pavilion’s website here

Big’s website here

Read about Theatre of the Oppressed here

Implicated theatre’s website here

Park nights Towards radio website here

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