Visitors look around the new pavilion designed by Swiss architects Jacques… (Andrew Cowie / AFP/Getty…)
Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s latest artistic endeavor was presented Thursday on the lawn of the Serpentine Gallery in London -- 5,000 miles away from the city Ai can’t leave.
The pavilion -- the 12th so far commissioned by the gallery -- was co-designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron, who worked with Ai on the Bird's Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Ai, who is under constant surveillance and not allowed to leave Beijing, collaborated with the Swiss architects via the video chat application Skype.
"Herzog & de Meuron are old friends, and we were asked if we were interested and we started the whole project. We all know the nature of my situation – I can't really travel. So we took several Skype sessions to come up with the concepts," he told The Independent.
"Using Skype is lovely. I think all projects should be done with Skype. You only have to communicate the spiritual part," Ai added.
The underground structure is wrapped in muted steel and topped with a disc-shaped water roof that reflects the city’s sky. Inside, strong-smelling cork lines the walls and floors and 12 supporting columns marked with graphic designs make for a carved-out tribute to the past and current pavilions.
Benches, as well as seats shaped like champagne tops, are sprinkled throughout for visitors to sit and stay during its three-month residence at the gallery. (Bloomberg reported billionaire Lakshmi Mittal, head of the world’s largest steelmaker ArcelorMittal, has already purchased the pavilion.)
“The pavilion concept is about memory and questioning. It's to offer something the public will hopefully enjoy at this moment, there with the Olympics,” said Ai, referencing London’s upcoming Summer Games starting next month.
Since 2000, the directors of Serpentine, once a tea house, each year ask an architect or artist to create a temporary structure for fund-raisers and visitors. Past pavilion architects include Pritzker Prize-winner Peter Zumthor and Frank Gehry, who in 2008 completed a complex structure with overlapping timber planks and glass panes.
Sundance 2012: Ai Weiwei screening becomes a political event
Ai Weiwei, Chinese government friction intensifies over webcams
Ai Weiwei, Marina Abramovic documentaries opening this summer