Zumthor @ Serpentine

This Summers offering at the Serpentine Pavilion was hosted by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. The concept behind Zumthor’s pavilion is hortus conclusus, a garden within a garden. Zumthor himself has said that ‘a garden is the most intimate landscape ensemble I know of. It is close to us. There we cultivate the plants we need. A garden requires care and protection. And so we encircle it, we defend it and fend for it. We give it shelter. The garden turns into a place.’ However, on first impressions, the building which Zumthor has created appears to be anything but the home of fauna and flora. The building is dark and black, a complete juxtaposition from Jon Nouvel’s red creation last year. On entering the building there is no light, just darkness, as though you are in a maze with the lights turned off, not a place for anything to grow naturally.

Yet once you have managed to directed yourself out of the darkness and into the core of the building, there is light again, an open garden, put together by Dutch designer Piet Oudolf. It is as though Zumthor is trying to protect his garden and has a created a black shell in way of doing so. The viewer discovers what it is exactly that the architect is ‘defending’, from, most likely, the hustle and bustle of London life. It seems as though it could almost be a modern interpretation of the children’s classic ‘The Secret Garden’, although i doubt this is what either Zumthor of Oudolf had in mind, it is presented as a precious discovery all the same.

At first, the pavilion seems like an abstract venture with no real purpose or meaning, yet on learning about hortus conclusus, it becomes the setting for something with more integrity. Peter Zumthor, with the help of Piet Oudolf has successfully portrayed a three dimensional image of something people can relate too, not necessarily the protection of nature, but the need to shelter away and protect something delicate from the world.

This years exhibition is open in Hyde Park until October 16

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer with a special interest in contemporary Middle Eastern Art. She has a BA in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and also writes for After Nyne, Ibraaz and Reorient.

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