For many the word ‘pavilion’ evokes memories of lazy days on green lawns, brass bands and deck chairs, a scene more reminiscent of eighteenth century pleasure gardens than the concrete pit that plays home to Philip Cheater’s sculpture this summer. Whilst its Latin root ‘papilion’ is an allusion to the wings of a butterfly, Cheater’s geodesic reworking of this traditional structure is more beehive than cocoon. Both open and sheltered, Pavilion mirrors the environment of the Bearpit itself.
In a society preoccupied with a culture of health and safety, that divides our spaces with red tape and deems where it is safe or unsafe for us to go, we have been culturally conditioned to perceive Pavilion’s garish graphics as a warning sign. For some this warning is in itself a temptation, like the ‘Keep of the Grass’ signs that spur you to roly-poly down verdant banks; the graffitied tags on Cheater’s structure play testament to this. For others the associative fear evoked by warning signs may be harder to overcome. Yet when you venture inside Pavilion you find that it is a welcoming space, one that provides shelter from the elements and a space to sit, converse and relax. Fear of the unfamiliar gives way to a joyous embrace of the new, turning the association of hazard graphics on its head.
“By encouraging the public to question the authoritative hazard signs, Cheater’s work reminds us that the perception of threat is often unfounded.”
For me, this is the real power of Pavilion. It prompts the viewer to challenge their perception of what is deemed ‘unsafe’, offering a sheltered and hospitable alternative to the danger one might expect to encounter. By encouraging the public to question the authoritative hazard signs, Cheater’s work reminds us that the perception of threat is often unfounded, if we dare to push the boundaries a little.
This bold message resonates strongly with the narrative of the Bearpit, a vibrant and lively space which many are encouraged to avoid for fear of danger. Yet just like the hazard graphics that Cheater has reclaimed as a welcoming sign, the public also have the power to reinvent the spaces they occupy. What was once perceived as a no-go zone is being reimagined as a place of leisure and community, of which Pavilion is just one element. But this reinvention is only possible with the public, those courageous pioneers who dare to cut through the mental red tape that defines where we feel comfortable. Like the bees and butterflies evoked by Pavilion who flock to brightly coloured blossoms, when we dare to question our perceptions of space we often find that the result is sweeter than expected.
Myla Lloyd was a Live Guide for Art in Bearpit.