The controversial Apollo Pavilion is at the heart of a new exhibition in Durham as Tamzin Lewis learns
VICTOR Pasmore’s Apollo Pavilion is loved and loathed in equal measure. It’s a source of inspiration to artists and architects, but of frustration and despair to residents who live on its doorstep.
In a new body of work, photographer Michele Allen has captured how the pavilion affects people’s homes and lives in Peterlee.
Michele says: “The pavilion is often represented as a dull concrete monstrosity, but as an artwork it is quite stunning.
“It is visually rich and very stimulating. When you climb up it in strong light you can see so many different shadows, patterns and shapes.
“However I can see why people feel frustrated living there as it attracts people that hang around all the time.”
Designed by abstract artist Pasmore, who was consulting director of urban design for Peterlee in the 1950s, the Apollo Pavilion was built in 1970.
Then a gleaming modernist creation which provided the backdrop for picnics, over time, the pavilion became a dirty, vandalised no-go area.
It is currently closed for restoration following years of neglect.
Michele, who has a Fine Art background, first became interested in the architecture of Peterlee while studying an MA in Photography at Sunderland University. At the time arts lecturer Tim Brennan unearthed a project which artist Stuart Brisley had begun in the 1970s, interviewing people in the new town.
Michele, 35, of Heaton, Newcastle, says: “Tim wanted to try and complete the work from the 1970s and I became involved with working on the sound archive and digitising old cassettes.”
In a continuation of Brisley’s work, Michele worked with a musician and sound engineer to record new interviews with residents, and installed a sound piece at the pavilion in September 2007.
Michele says: “People I spoke to say that when they first lived in Peterlee, the pavilion was immaculate, there were street wardens and the lake was cleaned regularly. Some of the problems which have occurred are due to social change and some are investment issues.
“The pavilion may be misunderstood, but according to residents, it is not as well maintained as it should have been.”
While installing her sound piece An exercise in total environment, Michele was inspired to take interior photos of a house which overlooks the pavilion.
She says: “I was up on the pavilion all day and when I went into a neighbour’s house and it occurred to me that it looked like the pavilion inside.
“I was interested in the whole environment which Pasmore was involved with in Peterlee and became interested in photographing peoples’ houses. It is like people are living in an artwork.”
Coming from an abstract art, rather than an architectural background, this is partly what Pasmore intended.
He was allotted a plot of land in south west Peterlee with the proposal of devising a dynamic housing and road layout.
The pavilion and the lake next to it in Sunny Blunts were to be the focal point of this area with housing and landscape treated like a total concept.
However, his modernist ideals did not necessarily make for the most practical living conditions and flat roofs have had to be replaced and wind tunnels filled in.
The idea of a ‘total environment’ is what most interests Michele. She says: “A lot of artists have made work about the pavilion and I have been drawn in by the area to make something which is interesting to me.
“It is an odd idea for a designer to think you can control a space and it is interesting to see how people have changed their environment.”
The result is an exhibition of photos While Reason Sleeps at the Durham Art Gallery which rather than focusing on the pavilion, are interiors and exteriors of houses.
Exhibiting alongside Michele is sculptor Kabir Hussain whose latest work Bird’s Eye View is inspired by the Apollo Pavilion. The London-based artist has created 24 bronze sculptures exploring the composition and geometry of modernist architecture.
There is also work reflecting mythological states and illusory spaces by North East artist Jo Ray.
The restoration of the Apollo Pavilion by the District of Easington Council is due to be completed this year and has been helped by a Heritage Lottery Fund.
While Reason Sleeps, Bird’s Eye View and My Spectacles run at the DLI Museum and Durham Art Gallery until March 22.
For more information visit www.durham.gov.uk or call 0191 384 2214.
Michele is looking for more residents close to the pavilion to be involved in her project. Email her on firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to volunteer.