by Jerry ElengicalJun 11, 2021
The 21st Serpentine Pavilion in London will be named Black Chapel, designed by Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates. The pavilion will be realised with the architectural support of Adjaye Associates and opened to the public on June 10, 2022. The Serpentine Pavilion has been a staple in architectural event calendars since its conception in 2000 with the late Zaha Hadid’s pavilion design. A potent source of spatial and material experimentation, the pavilion has also served as a physical representation of the values of multidisciplinary creative practices. Gates and Sir David Adjaye would be the third artist-architect collaboration to realise a pavilion. The first artist-architect collaboration was between Icelandic–Danish artist Olafur Eliasson and Kjetil Thorsen from the Norwegian studio Snøhetta in 2007. This was followed by Chinese artist Ai WeiWei and Swiss architect Herzog & De Meuron in 2012.
Black Chapel is the culmination of a collaboration between the Serpentine, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Whitechapel Gallery and White Cube, to realise a multi-venue London presentation, The Question of Clay, of the artist’s work between 2021-2022. In the Black Chapel Gates draws inspiration from the bottle kilns of Stoke-on-Trent. The bottle kilns were an archetypal feature of the British industrial landscape, making this pavilion a homage to British craft and manufacturing traditions. While the structure of the pavilion will be made of wood, the pavilion’s design alludes to the performative and meditative qualities of a small chapel. This is further enhanced by an oculus that will be the single source of light within the pavilion and is meant to enhance the sanctuary-like ambience of the pavilion.
A bell, repurposed from the demolished St. Laurence Church from Chicago, USA, will be placed next to the entrance of the pavilion and will be used to signal the commencement of activities and performances. Conceived as a platform for participation, live performances, with an emphasis on music and public engagement, Black Chapel will continue the artist’s ongoing practice of space-making through urban and architectural interventions. In an official statement Gates said, “The name Black Chapel is important because it reflects the invisible parts of my artistic practice. It acknowledges the role that sacred music and the sacred arts have had on my practice and the collective quality of these emotional and communal initiatives. Black Chapel also suggests that in these times there could be a space where one could rest from the pressures of the day and spend time inquietude. I have always wanted to build spaces that consider the power of sound and music as a healing mechanism and emotive force that allows people to enter a space of deep reflection and/or deep participation.”
A reflection of his oeuvre, Gates’ Serpentine Pavilion 2022 design shares the same title as a commission Gates received in 2019, from the late museum director and curator, Okwui Enwezor. The project was an attempt to bring Black spiritual life to the museum by activating the central atrium of museum Haus der Kunst in Munich, which was originally built for the Nazi regime. Bettina Korek, Chief Executive, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director, spoke of the commission saying, “We are honoured to undertake this remarkable project with leading visual artist Theaster Gates. One of the most significant voices working today, Gates' praxis combines formalism, conceptualism and powerful impact felt throughout the communities in which he works and beyond. We look forward to welcoming visitors to Black Chapel as a platform for engagement, spirituality and togetherness.”
The idea of "engagement, spirituality and togetherness" are a core aspect of Gates' practice which engages with spatial theory, land development, sculpture and performance. He draws from his training in urban planning and preservation, and his interest in redeeming spaces that have been left behind. His work contends with the notion of Black space as a formal exercise, one defined by collective desire, artistic agency and the tactics of a pragmatist. Gates created the Rebuild Foundation, a non-profit platform for art, cultural development and neighbourhood transformation that supports artists and strengthens communities through free arts programming and innovative cultural amenities on Chicago’s South Side.
The pavilion is designed to minimise its carbon footprint and environmental impact, in line with Serpentine’s sustainability policy. The predominantly timber structure will be lightweight and fully demountable, with a focus on sustainably-sourced materials and the reusability of the structure as a whole after its time installed at Serpentine. While the pavilion begins its life in Kensington Gardens, it will be re-sited to a permanent location in the future. Throughout the summer, the Serpentine Pavilion 2022 will become a public space for Serpentine’s programme which will feature the return of Park Nights, the interdisciplinary platform for the performing arts and live encounters in music, poetry and dance, running alongside Serpentine’s education and civic activations including family workshops and Community Day.