Rainbow wormhole in the Tar Pits: London's trippy pavilion moves to LA

When José Selgas and Lucía Cano unveiled their striking translucent wavy tunnel pavilion at London’s Serpentine Gallery in 2015, it was variously described as a psychedelic pupa, a trippy womb, a rainbow wormhole and – perhaps key to its runaway success – an Instagrammer’s paradise.

Now it has gone trippy in a whole new sense, because it is being moved across the ocean to Los Angeles, where it is being reconstructed piece by piece for a summer of cultural happenings and intense community conversations.

Even trippier, perhaps, is the fact that its landing spot is a public park next to the La Brea Tar Pits, where mammoths, sabre-toothed cats and other fearsome prehistoric creatures once roamed, only to sink for posterity into a black, goopy swamp and leave their fossilized bones for scientists to dig up and pore over.

Serpentine Pavilion in London.

Serpentine Pavilion in London. Photograph: Richard Chivers/View/REX/Shutterstock

It promises, in short, to set up an unforgettable encounter between 50,000 BC and the 21st century, in which the prehistoric creatures’ unfortunate fate will provide the backdrop for a discussion of the continuing, fraught relationship between the human inhabitants of modern Los Angeles and their disaster-prone natural surroundings. Oh, and David Lynch, perhaps the trippiest of modern film directors, will be on hand with some transcendental meditation.

This wild and intriguing idea is the brainchild of Second Home, the co-working space company that wants the rest of us to rethink how we create and interact and, not coincidentally, commissioned Selgas and Cano to design its avant-garde first building off Brick Lane in east London.

The transplanted pavilion is both an embodiment of Second Home’s ideals and a calling card for its new co-work space racing toward completion in the heart of Hollywood. Sam Aldenton, one of the company’s co-founders, had the idea of moving to Los Angeles – and using the pavilion to help him do it – almost as soon as the Serpentine Pavilion was up and running.

A slightly mad idea, perhaps, and one that ended up taking close to four years to realise. “A mixture of naivety and optimism” is how Aldenton described it to the Observer on a tour of the concrete basin and partially erected tunnels three weeks before the scheduled 27 June opening.

Serpentine pavilion 2015: a beguiling, colour-changing maze

It’s also explicitly a “love letter” from Aldenton and his high-powered team of expatriate Brits to the city they areadopting. The way they see it, they are merely aping the “wild act of imagination” that inspired the artists, architects, engineers and entrepreneurs before them who willed LA out of the desert. “Like them,” they write in a manifesto, “we’ve fallen in love with the possibilities of Los Angeles. And at the same time, we’re captivated by its flaws. Its madness and its chaos.”

The madness will involve free picnics, an outdoor screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark, a community culture marathon in which a variety of not-for-profit organizations will brainstorm and exchange ideas, a night of readings and discussion about the earthquakes, fires, landslides and drought that guarantee to make southern California unceasingly interesting and – possibly – something amazing, but as yet undetermined, involving Kendrick Lamar.

The assumption is that the tunnels themselves will be a compelling attraction, along a strip of Wilshire Boulevard that also includes the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, an automotive museum, a folk art museum and – coming soon – a museum celebrating the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the folks that bring you the Oscars.

La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.

La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. Photograph: Jason Bryan/Alamy Stock Photo

Lori Bettinson-Varga, who directs both the Tar Pits museum and its sister institution across town, the Museum of Natural History, acknowledges that hosting the pavilion is “a step outside the normal”. But she also loves the idea of her museum building on the community space in the park to give people a stronger sense of the link between the climate change of the last Ice Age and the disruptions the world is enduring now.

She also happens to be contemplating a major architectural overhaul of the Tar Pits to emphasize its relationship with the community and the city and sees the summer happenings as a great way to test the ideas she wants to incorporate in her new design. “We can have conversations around urbanism and public space and the environment and ask – what does it mean to be in a biodiversity hot spot and appreciate nature every day?” Bettinson-Varga said. “This is a great pilot for us.”

Aldenton is betting that Los Angeles, of all places, will grasp the idea at the heart of Second Home’s experiment: that people have their most original ideas when they are thrown into unfamiliar surroundings with people they may not have thought to talk to. And especially when those surroundings are creative.

On the day the Observer visited, the construction fences were still up and the tubular bones of the tunnels were shrouded in a white wrap that gave the impression of shrunken mummy limbs. But the sheets of translucent plastic that will cover the tubes were already on site, and Aldenton said he was drumming up volunteers who want to help finish the project as a community-building exercise in and of itself.

“We’re all about using space to transform the way people think,” he said. “This is going to be like a 21st-century village hall. And anything’s allowed.”


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