Theaster Gates drew inspiration from the roots of his practice as a potter, as an activist for social change, his faith and his father when designing the pavilion called Black Chapel.
The cylindrical form, created with Adjaye Associates, is made of black-stained plywood and has a large oculus in the roof. The design is influenced by the pottery kilns of Stoke-on-Trent and beehive kilns of the Western United States, as well as religious spaces including the Tempietto at San Pietro in Rome.
“Since the time I was invited to consider a commission for Serpentine, Black Chapel has evolved several times. Initially, when I considered the volume of the chapel, I was preoccupied with the early architectural forms that would manifest themselves in the manufactured world,” said a statement from Gates.
“Over time, the ideas around the chapel started to expand to include more spiritually dynamic and culturally specific spaces like the Musgum mud huts of Cameroon and the Kasubi tombs of Kampala, Uganda. What has remained consistent is a desire to pay homage to craft and manufacturing traditions, found especially on the African continent, in England and in the United States.”
Theaster describes Black Chapel as a memorial to his late father – a roofer who left an inheritance of his tar kettle, which was used to produce five tar paintings that hang within the pavilion – as a place for friendship and contemplation.
“I have a preoccupation with ecstasy – spaces of ecstasy,” said Theaster during a press preview of the pavilion. “There would be times when I would go to church, and church and the club where you could lose it entirely and the person next to you would be doing their thing without preoccupation about the way they’re loosing it. I love that there are places where ecstasy might happen if they’re courageous enough, open enough to receive it.”
“The name Black Chapel is important because it reflects the invisible parts of my artistic practice. It acknowledges the role that sacred music and the sacred arts have had on my practice, and the collective quality of these emotional and communal initiatives. Black Chapel also suggests that in these times there could be a space where one could rest from the pressures of the day and spend time in quietude. I have always wanted to build spaces that consider the power of sound and music as a healing mechanism and emotive force that allows people to enter a space of deep reflection and deep participation.”
“Blackness has something to do with the ability to remain open, to remain optimistic, to remain active in one’s cultural and spiritual life even though the truth of subjugation is all the fuck around you,” he continued. “It’s a willingness to be one’s self against nature, it’s the willingness to be one’s self while nature is happening and change the nature of the thing. Blackness is about hope of changing the things that around us, bend them toward our will. I’m so glad this plywood, this two-by-four and this rubber roof was willing enough to be bent.”
Black Chapel opens to the public from 10 June – 16 October 2022 and will be used to host Park Nights, a programme of live music, poetry, dance and education events. Included in this year’s roster are a performance by Theaster Gates’ band the Black Monks, as well as The Vernon Spring, The Choir of the London Oratory, Moses Boyd and Corinne Bailey Rae. There will also be workshops by community pottery group Mud Gang Pottery C.I.C and a Japanese tea ceremony by Keiko Uchida.
A bronze bell salvaged from St. Laurence Catholic church that once stood in Chicago’s South Side stands at the entrance of the pavilion, and will be used to call the beginning of events.
“[The pavilion] acknowledges the role that sacred music and ritual have had on my practice and the collective quality of these emotive forces and communal initiatives,” said Gates. “In this sense, Black Chapel is a platform through which great artistic moments in music and conviviality might happen. Black Chapel also suggests that in these times there could be a space where one could rest, reflect deeply, and spend time in quietude. It is my hope that Black Chapel will achieve the honorific, interrogate the sacred and encourage the social.”
After the pavilion’s closure, the fully demountable structure will be relocated to a permanent setting.
Black Chapel is part of a series of works by Gates titled a Question of Clay, which has included exhibitions at the Whitechapel Gallery (September 2021 – January 2022), the White Cube (September – October 2021) and a research project at the V&A.
The 2021 Serpentine Pavilion was designed by Sumayya Vally of Johannesburg-based studio Counterspace. It spliced together forms taken from meeting spaces – from bookshops to markets and places of worship – significant to migrant communities in London.
Other iterations of the Serpentine Pavilion have been designed by architects Frida Escobedo, Francis Kéré, Junya Ishigama and Smiljan Radic, which is now located in the gardens of Hauser & Wirth Somerset in Bruton.