Spaces that facilitate connectivity through conversation are beginning to become a central focus of my interests. This has lead me to research artists, curators and architects to better understand their use of space and how they create different types of engagement and what types of spaces facilitate them. I’ve began to look to the Serpentines summer pavilion program to gain a greater insight into the functionality of this idea.
Rem Koolhaas, the architect behind the 2006 pavilion said: “We are proposing a space that facilitates the inclusion of individuals in communal dialogue and shared experience”. Which speaks directly to Hans Ulrich’s first ‘Interview Marathon’, the central event for Koolhaas’ pavilion. ‘Interview Marathon’ was a single conversation held over 24 hours by artists, scientists, writers, musicians, historians, architects and directors. Koolhaas’ intention was for the pavilion to be “architecture of content” with close attention being paid to the conversations, discussions and events that took place within it. The project’s ambition was to raise the question of how new communication methods and formats could be created for discussing culture and society; encouraging a venturing out from art into other disciplines and a crossover of their respective audiences.
From the various YouTube clips I’ve watched, the dialogues only occur between the guests selected by Hans Ulrich. There doesn’t seem to be much public interaction, the conversation seems to act as more of a spectacle for the audience. This has left me torn and unsure how I feel about this work. On the one hand I’m very interested in the conversations being held by the wide range of guest speakers, on the other hand its left me unsure what the public add. I understand viewing a painting on the internet is never the same as viewing it in person. Watching a talk through a podcast or video is not going to be the same as watching it live. However, I have to question why opening such a conversation out to the public adds anything or aids the conversation in anyway. To me the audience acts as a distraction and takes away the intimacy that can be found within conversation. The fact that the audience is there, acts as a barrier for intimacy which, I believe, is where the most creative and interesting conversation can occur. If the public are redundant then perhaps so is the pavilion itself, no matter how big a balloon they blew up, it seems to have fallen flat.
The 2017 Serpentine Pavilion appears to function closer to my interests than perhaps the 2006 pavilion. Diébédo Francis Kéré was the architect who deigned the pavilion. He based it upon the largest tree in his native village, one that acted as a kindergarten, kitchen, village hall and day care centre. Along with with Mazi Mas; which translates to ‘with us’ in Greek, who are a collective of migrant women that were unable to find work, or did not have the right to work. They came together through volunteering as they wanted to put their culinary skills to use, gain work experience, meet new people, and give back to their communities.
Together, Kéré and Mazi Mas’ ‘Radical Kitchen: Recipes for Building Community and Change’ explore an experience that could bring together their food, culture and stories under Kéré’s modern village tree. Both Kéré and Mazi Mas are coming from a similar starting point and their collaboration has given a contemporary setting for very fundamental concerns. Those of community, shared histories, cultural preservation and a meeting point to discuss our collective future. The project is directly linked to its architectural origin, which is perhaps what I want from a space. It’s design and purpose to amplify the social engagement.
Perhaps the space doesn’t dictate to the extent I believe it does, maybe it’s more about how to orchestrate conversation within a space. Someone like Tino Sehgal’s work seems to do this expertly, particularly with the project he did for the Tate as part of the ‘Unilever Series’, ‘These Associations’. The piece consists purely of live encounters between people. The Turbine Hall is inhabited by an group of ‘interventionists’ whose choreographed actions use movement, sound, and conversation to directly engage with the public.
As the public enter the hall, Sehgal’s interventionists swoop in and pick a member of the public out of the crowd and begin to tell them about a moment in time that changed their lives. Due to the intimate nature of this act, the participants often find themselves deep in conversations that they couldn’t have foreseen. However, as Laura Cunningham explains in her Guardian article, “There is no social barter; you feel no pressure to divulge anything in exchange. It is like the best, and least demanding, party”.The process is then repeated by other interventionists who appear to operate like a flock of birds in the wind and focuses in on “The conversation is the medium and the message; the moment of shared communication is the realisation of the artwork”.
Sehgal’s work also grapples with attention and he uses it as a centre point to the work. “Attention is what it is all about, this precious thing we scarcely give one another and which is both the substance and the object of Sehgal’s work”. Keeping someone engaged within conversation is no easy task but when you are able to orchestrate it the way Sehgal has you can find yourself in a very interesting landscape. One that feels present and contemporary and one that runs on the very commodity we’re putting more and more currency behind, someone’s attention.