In the Belly of a Beast – The Serpentine Pavilion

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On the 25th June The Serpentine Pavilion unveiled its much-anticipated 15th annual commission, this time appointed to young Spanish architects José Selgas and Lucía Cano. No stranger to architectural experimentation, the Serpentine gardens pride themselves on welcoming eccentric designs with open arms and the SelgasCano project is no exception.

Inspired by the maze-like madness of the London Underground, the structure has four “tentacles” complete with multiple entrances and “secret tunnels”, weaving their way through to a synthetic suntrap in the centre. According to SelgasCano, “the most important colour here is white” – a reference no doubt to the stark flooring which, on entry, is the installation’s most striking feature. It functions as a palette soaking up colour and light, before splashing these onto a major focus of the design; the viewer. “The white ground is the canvas on which our colours can dance” say Selgas and Cano.

The architects wanted their design to “connect with nature and feel part of the landscape”. However, perching precariously on the gallery’s much dug up lawn, some parts of the installation seem to have sloped off into the wilderness. The cheap-and-cheerful polygonal structure is layered with fluorescent ETFE plastic, whilst some areas are simply “strung” together with sticky tape. The design – which is reminiscent of a colourful network of tents transported from this year’s Glastonbury – is illuminated by the occasional flashes of a gorgeous pearlescent polymer. These are the external glimmers of brilliance.

Inside the structure, SelgasCano’s vision begins to take shape. It transports you from opaque London into the iridescent body of a mythical creature. The light is captured beautifully and even the greyest of London skies reflect flawlessly on the tropical conservatory. The opalescent windows from above emit a pinky-hue, which stains the atmosphere and adds to the rather surreal experience. Sounds are different – tinny, shimmery and amplified. Even the shrill vibrations from the Fortnum & Mason pop-up coffee shop – incongruously but not unexpectedly found inside the pavilion – are transformed, and dance inside you like popping candy.

Each “tentacle” in the psychedelic maze exposes a different part of the extraordinary creature. The tail wriggles along a large kaleidoscopic archway, framed with soapy pearlescent windows, as you head towards the holographic intestines. Suddenly, with the turn of a corner, the beast’s stomach sucks you into a whirlpool of blood and guts, comprised of distressed tape in hues of crimson and orange. Then take a wrong step, and you might suddenly evacuate into a gaping orifice of tangled green vessels, left both bedazzled and bemused.

However it is the barren areas left untouched that quickly bring you back to earth. Some spaces left translucent, and others a tangled mess. Here the disconnected nature gives the overall structure a feeling of incompletion, as if it’s merely a framework. “It’s not a finished building,” says Cano. “It is a sketch for something else that may emerge” – this comment suggesting a possible feeling of dissatisfaction, as he regards the long-awaited design as merely ‘temporary’. Yet perhaps that’s what the extraordinary chrysalis is all about – natural change, development and imperfection.

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image c/o The Serpentine Gallery

By Amelia Nicholson