Visitors to London’s parks this summer will find something new to admire and interact with along with the sculptured landscapes and the scampering antics of grey squirrels. From June to September unique artist-designed temporary pavilions will be installed in four of the capital’s green spaces as the first stage of an ongoing public art Project called Portavilion. Curated by UP Projects — founded by Emma Underhill in 2002 to produce exhibitions and events outside of the Gallery context — Portavilion will not only explore the relationship between art, design, architecture and nature, but also how the public uses and interacts with art in a public space.
The idea of a pavilion is an interesting concept in itself. It can be an architectural structure which relates to an adjacent building or an outside space — maybe somewhere to sit and admire the view — and also a building designed for different events, exhibitions or entertainments to take place within it; think of the national pavilions used to show art at the Venice Biennale, the elaborate Royal Pavilion in Brighton … a sports pavilion even. The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion Commission, erected next to the gallery each year, has given the pavilion a new art-world context as experimental architecture; but add the idea of the pavilion as also being an artwork in itself and it becomes an arena for a whole new level of engagement to take place.
It’s fitting that the first Portavilion to be installed will be leading American artist Dan Graham’s ‘Triangular Pavilion with Circular Cut-out Variation H’, launching on 7 June in Holland park. As part of his art practice, Graham has been making pavilions in galleries and within the landscape in locations around the world since the 1970s. Using mirrored and two-way glass, his structures play with the boundaries between inside and outside, where people interacting with the work can both view it and their surroundings through it and be seen reflected in it. His work for Holland Park will take the form of a six-foot equilateral triangle with a circular central opening and will be accompanied by an exhibition of his videos in the nearby Ice House Gallery.
Swedish artist Annika Eriksson has worked with both the public history of her pavilion’s location — Regents Park — and the notion of the pavilion as a place for entertainment, by designing ‘The Smallest Cinema in the World: For the Wealthy and the Good’. Regents Park was developed by palace architect John Nash in 1646 with the land reserved ‘for the wealthy and the good’, from which Eriksson takes her title, and it wasn’t until 1836 that the general public were allowed access to certain areas, and then for only two days a week. Working with Hopkins Architects and Expedition Engineers to construct a wagon-train-like building, constructed from curved wooden plywood, Eriksson’s pavilion will operate as a six-seater cinema. As an artist Eriksson’s interest is in how people react to and interact within a public space; past projects include filming kid’s activities in Malmo’s People’s Park, which was built for and funded by local people. In her Portavilion cinema, in another take on inside/outside space, Eriksson will be showing films of what users of Regents Park get up to, now that they have the entire space to play and relax in.
Toby Paterson’s ‘Powder Blue Orthogonal Pavilion’ will be situated in Potters Fields Park, next to City Hall. Built from slatted planes of wood and painted powder blue, a colour that will also echo HMS Belfast moored nearby, Paterson’s artwork makes reference to modernist architecture in its design, an ongoing theme in his work. With any intended function deliberately ambiguous — shelter, stage, structure for children’s play? — it will become the inspiration and backdrop for two Portavilion events during its residency in Potters Fields: a choreographed piece by C-12 Dance Theatre, also part of London’s week-long celebration of dance ‘The Big Dance’ in July, and a series of fairy-tale performances by the Unicorn Youth Theatre.
Polish artist Monika Sosnowska has taken her inspiration from the gusty thermals enjoyed by kite-flyers on Primrose Hill for her pavilion, ‘The Wind House’, which will resemble a wooden hut that appears to have been blown down the hill to land in its current crumpled state. Made from multifaceted wood panels on top of a steel armature, ‘The Wind House’ also perhaps acknowledges another definition of the word pavilion — the lower surface of a faceted, cut gemstone. Sosnowska’s art investigates a more psychological use of architectural space; when Sosnowska represented her country at last year’s Venice Biennale, visitors had to navigate the tangled metal skeleton of an existing building which she had squashed into the Polish pavilion. It’s an idea that is also being explored in the Hayward Gallery’s exhibition ‘Psycho Buildings’, showing until 25 August.
Underhill hopes that park-goers will not only engage with the pavilion in the park they happen to be in, but will view the project as a whole and want to visit them all. To encourage this, events will be taking place in and around the pavilions throughout the summer, including talks by the artists, a film-making workshop, an urban treasure trail and an artist-led performance that will travel to three of the four structures. Joining Portavilion for many of the events are the London Festival of Architecture (which this year runs from 20 June to 20 July), the Design Museum and commissioning body and online network the Art of the Common Space. With two new pavilions already commissioned for next year, by Mike Nelson and Mark Dion, it’s hoped that the project will continue to expand and that after September it will also be able to travel to new temporary locations. On 18 July, a one-day symposium at City Hall will debate many of the issues surrounding art, architecture and open space. With his office now in City Hall maybe new mayor Boris Johnson will take time out to join in and pay a visit to Toby Paterson’s ‘Powder Blue Orthogonal Pavilion’. At least he should approve of the colour.
For further information about launch dates for all the pavilions and accompanying events visit www.portavilion.com