The Apollo Pavilion

Apollo Pavilion

The Apollo Pavilion in Peterlee, County Durham turned 50 this year. As part of Durham County Council’s celebrations, Artichoke presented Apollo 50, a unique light projection by Berlin-based duo, Mader Wiermann.

Taking place over two nights on 22 and 23 March 2019, Mader Wiermann’s light and video mapping installation transformed the façade of this brutalist structure designed by British pioneer of abstract art, Victor Pasmore into a stunning display of light and movement.

The Apollo Pavilion remains a rare UK example of a large-scale experiment in the fusion of art and architecture. Pasmore was inspired by the revolutionary German Bauhaus school of art, which aimed to bring art back into contact with everyday life and give architecture and functional design as much weight as fine art. Named after the 1969 Apollo moon landing, Pasmore’s Pavilion of the same year, represents the bold vision and aspirations for change which motivated the architecture of Britain’s New Towns.

Apollo Pavilion

Local opinions of the pavilion are mixed. Some appreciate it as something unique, a piece of historic design, but the majority of people want to see it demolished, believing it to be an eye-sore. In recent years the pavilion has been covered in graffiti and partly closed off, which doesn’t help people engage with a structure that is already considered to be lacking purpose.

My experience of the pavilion was the former. Growing up in East Durham, there wasn’t much opportunity to experience art and culture so the pavilion was an exciting opportunity to enjoy iconic design and pioneering architecture in my everyday surroundings. I would spend many weekends at the pavilion taking photographs, exploring its shapes and angles in search of that elusive perfect shot.

Apollo Pavilion

Over two evenings Apollo 50 sought to challenge public perceptions with an innovative and ambitious display. Seeing the pavilion with the moving projections was nothing short of exhilarating. It felt genuinely exciting and there was a buzz running through my body. It was incredible to see so many people of all ages from the local community and beyond, including families and children interacting with this mesmerising piece.

Presented in this way it felt that the brutalist structure was given new meaning, allowing people to think about the pavilion in a different light; as something to be celebrated, revered and enjoyed. Seeing children running over the walkway and dancing to the music, taking photographs of the projections and interacting with the installation was a joy to see.

This special event brought Pasmore’s paintings to life and temporarily transformed the Pavilion into a flowing structure of shape-shifting patterns. Beyond the sensory appeal of the installation though, broader work with the local community will be undertaken to give young people the chance to further engage with art and culture.

The event will be followed by a community-based education programme where 15 local young people are invited to take part in a series of masterclasses in partnership with Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s BA course in Video Design for Live Performance. They will be offered further opportunities to work towards an exciting career in this field of work as well as showcasing their original artwork at Lumiere in November 2019.

It was a wonderful experience to re-engage with a place that means so much to me and was so influential to my childhood and upbringing. It feels like this could be the beginning of a cultural future and legacy for places like Peterlee, where arts and culture aren’t traditionally high on the agenda.

I hope that for those who attended are now more open minded to trying other new things and maybe even to explore a little further afield. Perhaps it will even lead to parents encouraging their children to embrace art, culture, their surroundings and their creative potential in a way that certainly wasn’t encouraged in the past.

By Mickey Devine

Photography by Rebecca Kate Storey