The pavilion and summer shows at the Serpentine this year make me think about surface and what goes on either side.
The pavilion designed by Smiljan Radić has a surface that implies a solid object, the association of the upper form with the stones it appears to sit on is of something massive and natural. In fact it is neither, the upper form is a resin shell, still of architectural scale it is not yet lightweight – the strands of the resin matting are chunky and the detailing is not delicate – but definitely not massive. Being a shell the pavilion encloses a void, and with a toroidal form there is an external void which bleeds into the internal void via the cuts in the surface.
Despite its obvious materiality the plastic character of the fibreglass (its malleability and its flat colour) gives the pavilion an air of unreality, at least externally; inside, the shell has a warm glow from the filtered daylight and the wooden floor still gives off a mild sweet smell (as does the fibreglass carapace).
In the main gallery the Marina Abramović performance/exhibition feels like a converse surface is being explored. Firstly the surface is immaterial, there are very few artefacts to support the performance in which each visitor plays their own central role – on the day I visit, chairs to sit upon, ear guards to dampen sound, a few coloured sheets of paper on a wall. Once again the surface does form a shell and has cut outs, these correspond to locations on the body but the ‘real’ surface is psychological. You can spend a short while in the performance observing others, gaze and thoughts directed outwards, but once engaged to take part, the gaze turns inward – particularly if you are asked to close your eyes and wear the ear guards. Of course what happens now is dependent upon the participant but will encompass physical and thought sensations (the heartbeat sounds louder, you feel yourself slouching, the weight of the ear guards is unnatural, the mind wanders from thoughts of the day to reflections on the form of the performance to a variety of other thoughts) – I am tired from the day and try to aim for the clarity and repose I can achieve from yoga but it doesn’t happen, I content myself with the muted shuffling of people and think long about the activities, colours, and people I have seen in the gallery.
Later I remember an unsatisfying (for me) meditation weekend I was asked to attend that featured similar physical activities but couched in spiritual rather than artistic terms, it is as if I need to have a more physical engagement with this surface to be settle inside for a while.
The other show by Ed Atkins features a CGI installation called Ribbons, which of course are very narrow flimsy surfaces. The surfaces in the show are largely immaterial but it is external, presented to visitor. Displays with texts accompany the CGI, they feature flattened CGI depictions of skin, cut like pelts and accompanied by text which is similarly flattened and not particularly penetrable.
The CGI work hovers between being realistic and artificial, we see texture and tics in the main character and yet there are still characteristics belying the artifice – the avatar’s tongue is firmly rooted to the bottom of the mouth, scars read similarly to fake tattoos. Furthermore brash intertitles, stylistic variations on Hollywood film trailers and mass market novels, cut through the surface emotion and pace of the key narrative.