Finding more than fair-weather fun at Serpentine Pavilion

I’m usually first past the post to visit the annual Serpentine Pavilion. In fact, i’d go so far to say that I anticipate it.

Over the years I’ve seen more than a few internationally renowned artists take up the challenge of designing a 300 square metre structure to take pride of place alongside one of London’s most exciting contemporary art galleries. With the intention of creating a cafe-cum-social space by day, and an entertainment space by night, I’ve always enjoyed putting the resulting structure through its paces with a young companion in tow. So imagine my disappointment this morning, as we drew closer to Francis Kéré’s bold blue structure, and my 4 year old decided to drop the clanger “I’m not going in there”.

I’ve always relished having kids that were open to everything, but here I was, in front of what was intended to be one of Serpentine’s most inclusive pavilions, and she had bailed. What on earth was I to do? I knew you’d be relying on me. I knew I had to think quick.

The artist was particularly keen on ensuring visitors to the pavilion remain ‘in nature’ whilst they view it, which means there’s plenty of scope to circumnavigate the space, without really feeling like you’re “in”. This was helpful. I could at least talk her into a scoot around the outside, and with four separate entrances and free-standing perforated walls, i’d at least get a good peek inside.

The whole structure is inspired by the canopy of a tree and its role as the centre of community in the artist’s native Burkina Faso. The focal point of the community, the tree offers shade and shelter, but it is also a social space, a meeting place where everyone in the village can come together.

Three quarters of the way round and we struck gold, in the form of a mound of plywood which had been fashioned into what appeared like a slide. A simple accessory to the centrepiece was shaping up to be our main event. Grateful for being thrown a lifeline, I dashed inside to check the rules of engagement with front of house staff, and at the wishes of the artist, we were free to explore. She slid down its shiny surfaces. She reclined in the (not quite) sunshine. She circled it like a mountain, and jumped free from its summit. So much more than a slide, this humble addition successfully recreates the collective gathering of children under the tree, a virtual kindergarten, allowing us ‘villagers’ the time and space to look on, to talk and to share stories.

Now sold on the structure, we ventured inside to the sweet smell of coffee. The central courtyard which kept us connected to nature, was the next big draw and we both loved seeing and feeling the outdoors inside. The seating here is strictly for bottoms and don’t allow the same level of adventure, but the wind in our hair and the stones under foot soon had us lost in our own thoughts, as if we were on a distant beach. All we needed was to be free of the overcast skies above and the world would be perfect.

Keen to quit whilst ahead (and grateful to have turned a thumbs down into a thumbs up), we headed off, over the road to the Diana Memorial Fountain for a paddle.

As we moved away from the pavilion, I could finally appreciate the expanse of the funnel-like roof in all its glory, ready and waiting for the dark clouds above us to kick it into action. Bound to nature, this creation really comes to life when it rains and any water collected on the roof is channeled into a spectacular waterfall effect, before being evacuated through the floor for later use within the park. This surely makes this one of the most simple, yet useful, pavilions we have ever visited.

Whatever the weather, it goes without saying that Serpentine Pavilion should be high on your day out ‘hit list’ this summer. Free, family friendly and lots of fun, it’s a visual feast that neither a grumpy pre schooler nor the British summertime can spoil.

Serpentine Pavilion is open until 8th October 2017.
Admission Free, Open daily 10am to 6pm.

Inspired by Francis Kéré’s stories of gathering, debate and community the Pavilion will become host to a series of picnic talks this summer, every Wednesday at 1pm until 23rd August.

There is also a Family Day on 22nd July. See website for details

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Lucy Raven at Serpentine: Our favourite kind of screen time

We are absolutely loving the run of screen based installation art that is taking London by storm at the moment. First we were captivated by the cultural rollercoaster ride that is The Infinite Mix, then we found ourselves lost in the audible chaos of William Kentridge’s Thick Time at The Whitechapel Gallery. Now, and until mid February, the ever-intriguing Serpentine Gallery has transformed its central space into a cinema, embracing the shorter darker days outside and keeping us cosy with their winter exhibition.

New York based artist Lucy Raven is the star here, showcasing her experimental approach in her first UK solo exhibition, Edge of Tomorrow. Focussing on the marginal spaces at the edges of image production, the work uncovers the unseen teams converting Hollywood films to 3D in Chennai (The Deccan Trap, 2015), as well the painstaking process of breathing live into animation (As If I Had Actually Been To China, 2007).

The themes at play here might be a little complex for younger visitors, but that absolutely shouldn’t put you off. Outside of the strobe effects, there’s nothing to render this work unsuitable for them, in fact, it’s a lively assault on the senses, with the added entertainment of having to don 3D glasses to enjoy key pieces. Particularly enjoyable was the completely hypnotic and ever-so-slightly trippy repetition of RP31 (2012) and the brain-twisting Curtains (2014) which at times made uncomfortable viewing, giving you a perfect sense of monotony in relation to the task at hand.

In addition to the work that you will see in the day, by night the artist has curated a more formal Serpentine Cinema, which will play host to a range of screenings, from Hollywood features to short films and animations, all of which celebrate the progress that we have made in moving image technology.

Serpentine Gallery isn’t huge, so if you’re left wanting more, over the bridge, Serpentine Sackler Gallery is hosting rarely seen drawings, paintings and calligraphy by pioneering artist and architect Zaha Hadid (1950-2016). Although this work is perhaps less accessible, the scale is staggering and the opportunity to experience some of these topographic-style wonders through Virtual Reality is a big draw if you can be patient enough. Plus, what better excuse to spend longer in the vicinity of one of the most beautiful parks in London.

Serpentine Winter Exhibitions run until 12 February 2017
Serpentine Galleries, Kensington Gardens, London W2 3XA
Tuesday to Sunday, 10am-6pm. Closed 24, 25, 26 and 31 December and 1 January
Admission Free
Nearest tube: Marble Arch, Lancaster Gate

What’s nearby? Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain (open 10am-4pm), Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground (open 10am-3.45pm), Peter Pan Statue, Kensington Palace as well as a wealth of beautiful gardens and a lake full of ducks and swans!

There is also a family day planned for Saturday 11th February 2017.

Serpentine’s playful Summer Houses shed new light on old classics

Last summer we couldn’t wait to tell all of our friends about our adventures getting lost in the secret corridors and kaleidoscope colour of the 2015 Serpentine Pavilion. This year, i’ve had to contain my excitement since February’s announcement that the annual summer Pavilion commission for 2016 would be joined by an additional four Summer Houses, each designed by architects who’ve yet to build a permanent building here in England.

The focal point of this year’s additions was clear; each of the 25 sq m Summer Houses should be inspired by the nearby Queen Caroline’s Temple, a classical style summer house built in 1734, now taking up an enviable position a stone’s throw from the Serpentine Gallery itself. Sadly this hasn’t prevented us from repeatedly ignoring it as we’ve passed by over the years. This visit was, however to be a very different beast, and with one curious 3 year old and 4 new lively architectural companions, this beauty soon became the unintentional star of the show.

Stood stark against the backdrop of leafy Kensington Gardens, with a shape as striking as the of the Serpentine spire, the Pavilion itself seemed the most appropriate place to start our visit. As a space that is intended for use by everyone, in whichever way they choose to interact with it, I absolutely love everything that this project stands for and this year’s creation by Danish architectural practice Bjarke Ingels Group was no exception. Although on the surface the structure doesn’t appear to have the same abundance of light and space as last year’s effort, as we moved through the walls of stacked fibreglass frames, they began to open out, eventually revealing the magnificent grass and sky of the gardens beyond. Sadly my little companion didn’t stick around for the big reveal, instead making it her mission to fit herself inside one of the fibreglass ‘bricks’ which doubled up as Pavilion seating.

We picnicked on the grass behind the Serpentine Gallery, shielding our feast from any unrestrained dogs, before following the path towards the site of the new Summer House commissions. We first found shade in the peaceful rooms of Barkow Leibinger’s looping plywood and timber creation, in which only the front facing room can really compete with the views of the (now extinct) rotating Pavilion on which it was based.

From here I followed my young companion as she headed through the implied ‘doorway’ into Kunlé Adeyemi’s inverse replica of Queen Caroline’s Temple. She negotiated her way speedily towards the original, through the scattered elements of the new structure on which visitors can sit (not climb) and relax into the space around them. Once inside, it then became very difficult to prise her out. Every sound echoed loud, giving her a presence far greater than her tiny size and the multiple arches and whitewash walls had created a much cooler space to run and hide.

I walked on curious to explore Asif Khan’s enclosure of timber staves, offering a surprising amount of shade for it’s seemingly open structure. This house provided a magnificent space to see and be seen – a nice synergy with the original purpose of the gardens beyond. I took a deep breath as my little companion managed to catch up with me by squeezing herself in through the gap in the slats, despite the perfectly good entry and exit at either end. Clearly the appearance of a fellow small person cracking open their lunch proved too good to miss, yet despite originally being conceived as a tea house, we’re still not completely sure that the structure in the middle is a picnic table! We stayed inside for some time, enjoying the almost cosy feel of the space which looks as if it has risen from stones below.

Confused by how close we were allowed to get to neighbouring Yona Friedman’s geometric Summer House (or indeed how its movable arrangement would ever amount to shade) we decided to get on our way.

This year’s architectural project is most certainly a triumph, expanding the idea of spacial interaction beyond the Pavilion itself and transforming other parts of the gardens in a way that everyone can enjoy. Providing an abundance of shade, the project has not only allowed the visitor to think again about the contribution that a Summer House makes to an expanse of space, but by focusing these ‘modern takes’ on an old classic, the project has given something old and precious a brand new voice, reviving its status amongst a new generation of young visitors and creating an almost unintentional centrepiece.

Serpentine Pavilion and Summer Houses will be in Kensington Gardens until 9th October 2016
Open daily, 10am to 6pm
Admission free

Until 30th September, Serpentine are also inviting 8 to 11 year olds to design and build their own Pavilion online for a chance to win an iPad

Nearby: If all that shade leaves you longing for some sun, the Serpentine Gallery is a short walk from the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain and the Serpentine Lido. Pack your swimmers, both are perfect for a paddle.

Last chance to see: DAS INSTITUT @SerpentineUK

In spite of her morbid obsession with Halloween (meaning the celebration lives on year-round in our house), nothing creeps a pre-schooler out more than a dark room. Add in strange lights and images of weird creatures and you have some of the ingredients which make DAS INSTITUT at Serpentine Sackler Gallery a surprising and exhilarating visit for little ones.

Featuring individual as well as collaborative works by Kerstin Brätsch and Adele Röder, the exhibition is their first major UK show exploring the transformative effects of light on bodies and spaces. As well as the skylights of the gallery being covered with coloured gels, the artworks themselves form a key source of light within the space as projected images, stained glass and neon shapes.

Despite my 6 months of graft, it took my 3-year-old a disappointing amount of time to recognise Breast 2010/2015. If first impressions count, these create a big one, enough for us to spend at least 10 minutes stood in front of them until she realised that their intermittent illumination was not simply controlled as a result of her blinking.

The hieroglyphic nature of Script 2015 housed in the South Tomb of the gallery also proved popular as the slide carousels presented an ever-changing run of unusual illuminated forms, but the centrepiece of the exhibition is by far the incredible hanging paintings and glass panels of Brätsch’s Mylars 2015. Staring down from the ceiling like a strange tribe daring you to enter, the installation is brought together by the neon under-lighting of Röder’s Deep Sleep 2010/2015. It’s a challenging space for any 3-year-old to enter, exciting and imposing all in one go, but fortune favours the brave; a thought I had to hang onto having just sent her into a room of precious art and tempting tubes.

With such a variety of shapes, forms and faces, as well as the anticipation of intermittent lights and slide carousels, DAS INSTITUT has absolutely transformed Serpentine Sackler Gallery. If you’re visiting Kensington Gardens, Princess Diana Memorial Playground or the big Museums over the Easter holidays, it’s definitely worth a look before the lights go out for good on the 15th May.

DAS INSTITUT is at Serpentine Sackler Gallery until 15th May
Serpentine Sackler Gallery, West Carriage Drive, Kensington Gardens, London W2 2AR
Open Tues to Sun 10am-6pm, plus bank holidays
Admission Free

Colour me happy at the @SerpentineUK Pavilion 2015

Imagine if, instead of a cocoon that was drab and brown, Eric Carle had given us a sneak-preview of our friend The Very Hungry Caterpillar as a magnificent multi-coloured butterfly. Well this year’s 15th annual Serpentine Pavilion is a great indication of exactly what that might have looked like.

Approaching through a sea of greenery that is the beautiful Kensington Gardens, prepare to be hit by a wall of colour followed by a frisson of excitement at the prospect of losing yourselves in this brand new magical space.

Designed by Madrid based architects SelgasCano, this unusual polygon, made from panels of translucent, multi-coloured polymer, was inspired by the chaotic yet structured way that us Londoners move around our city. The result is a maze-like structure, with ‘secret corridors’ between its outer and inner layers, creating a fun, interactive and welcoming space for visitors of all ages.

Wherever you choose to enter or exit the Pavilion, each path walks you through a variety of colours and fractures of light before eventually leading you into the kaleidoscope interior. The process of walking in and out of the tunnels will feel strangely addictive, with an overwhelming feeling of wanting to rush back in as soon as you find yourself on the outside of the fun.

For visitors hoping to find an airy shade for little ones on a sunny day, you might be disappointed. On the day of my visit, the temperature was upwards of 25 degrees, creating a near greenhouse effect as layers trapped warm air inside rather than providing free-flow. That said, however, once you’re inside, you’re definitely in the best place, with Fortnum & Mason in residence serving cold drinks, ice cream scoops and even a Knickerbocker Glory, providing the perfect compliment to this colour therapy for keeping everyone happy.

As well as a playful public space by day, the Pavilion is a forum for learning, debate and entertainment by night, with Park Nights bringing together art, poetry, music, film and literature, every Friday between July and September.

With such a stunning setting, it’s easy to while away a day here with the kids, particularly if you are considering combining it with a visit to Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground, Serpentine Lido or even the nearby Science Museum or Natural History Museum. Visit on Sunday 5th July and you’ll get the added treat of the gallery’s Family Day (12-5pm, admission free) promising free, artist-led events open to families with children of all ages.

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion is open daily 10am-6pm until 18th October 2015, admission free.

** NOTE The Pavilion is closed to the public on 2nd and 3rd July for private function**

Nearby: Walk 5 minutes over the bridge to neighbouring Serpentine Sackler Gallery, where kids will marvel at the work of artist Duane Hanson, who has created incredible life-like sculptures portraying working class Americans in everyday life. With meticulous details such as body hairs, veins and bruises, every figure makes you double take, particularly if your little ones are prone to giggling and staring at statue street performers for hours on end.