Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei had his summer pavilion for London's Serpentine Gallery unveiled last Thursday, but he was notably absent from the proceedings.
The 54-year-old was unable to leave China to attend the opening due to his arrest and detention last year.
Weiwei worked with architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron to create the 2012 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, which is the 12th in the gallery's annual series (what its website calls "the world's first and most ambitious architectural program of its kind").
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On Thursday, Herzog and de Meuron discussed the design and ideas behind the large circular structure made of muted steel and earth-colored cork that is now on view in Hyde Park in the Serpentine Gallery's front lawn.
Eleven columns characterizing each past Pavilion (which had been designed by eleven different architects) and a twelfth column representing the current structure support a floating platform roof that collects water above the ground and reflects the sky, inspiring seated visitors to "to look beneath the surface of the park as well as back in time across the ghosts of the earlier structures." For special events, the water can be drained off the roof, which can then be used as a dance floor.
"What Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron have come up with," said Julian Peyton-Jones, the Serpentine's director, "isn't a grand edifice - a homage to themselves - but a homage to everyone else."
The artist and architects had all worked together for the Beijing National Stadium, built for the 2008 Olympic Games. This new project, on view through October 14, is a part of the London 2012 Festival celebrating the upcoming summer Olympics.
In a filmed statement that was aired at the press conference, Weiwei said, "As an artist, I am always very interested to put art, design, architecture and social change together to make new possibilities. For this Serpentine pavilion, we tried to study what happened before and we also asked ourselves why we need to make a new design for this event. We focused on memory and the past. We made a study to dig into the meaning of this total act and from that a very interesting result came out, which I think gives this pavilion a new meaning."
Their creation speaks to the past while looking forward toward a tangible time of celebration.
"Artists are like the final seismographs of what is happening now," De Meuron said. "I think they are the ones who think now but project into the future."