Serpentine Pavilion 25 July - 25 August 2021, Daily at 5pm Free

How does money affect our present day lives and how will it shape our future?

Join us daily at 5pm for a fully immersive listening experience. Crystals of this Social Substance runs for a total of 41 minutes. We encourage you to time your visit accordingly so that you can listen to the artwork in its entirety.

Crystals of this Social Substance is a new sound work by the artist Jay Bernard, commissioned by Serpentine Education for Listening to the City.

The work was developed through a series of intimate workshops staged during summer 2021, in which the artist invited eight young people to talk about money. Bernard locates the piece in the specific triangle of London’s Tulse Hill, Brixton and Herne Hill neighbourhoods, an area where they grew up, currently live, and situate as “a curious mix of deprivation and hyper-privilege”.

Together they played the ubiquitous capitalist board game Monopoly, and the cult 1978 socialist board game Class Struggle, in order to reflect on and question the world views the games propose. The afternoon workshops, which also encompassed visioning and free writing exercises created space for the young people to describe how it feels to live in their neighbourhood and think about how their experiences are mediated by global economic forces.

The conversations, which revolve around class, economics and inequality, result in a new sound commission for the Serpentine’s Listening to the City programme. Crystals of this Social Substance features the voices of young people as they find the language to articulate their personal relationships to money and grapple with how and why it is unevenly distributed across the city.

‘These are teenagers from very different walks of life, some on the cusp of adulthood, who demonstrate one of the truisms of London, which is that the wealthy and the poor have always lived side by side, yet the feeling that this embodied borderland evokes is far more difficult to access. Quite what a frontier it is was demonstrated by the walls that went up, the contradictions uttered, the conflicted body language that is perceptible if invisible in audio. I want to take the workshop out into the public so that we might encounter our own unarticulated truths about what money does to and for us, how it splits our allegiances, how it weighs on our consciences, rules our lives, shapes the places we live.’ – Jay Bernard

Crystals of this Social Substance was developed with young people from Alleyn’s School, The Baytree Centre, Brixton Youth Theatre, Dulwich College, High Trees Community Development Trust, and ML Community Enterprise. The young people were paid for their time.

With thanks to Impact Brixton and Glows Tulse Hill. 

Sonic Description

For each of the sound commissions taking place in 2021 Serpentine Pavilion designed by Counterspace, Serpentine has worked with a sound artist to commission a written sonic description. For Jay Bernard’s Crystals of this Social Substance, Kerry Hudson has written a text-based translation of the piece.

The sonic descriptions are part of ongoing research into how our programme can be more accessible to D/deaf and low hearing audiences. Research is conducted within Serpentine’s Access Working Group and through the Artist Residency focusing on disability and inclusion.

About Jay Bernard

Jay Bernard is an artist from London whose work is interdisciplinary, critical, queer and rooted in the archives. As well as being a film programmer at BFI Flare, they were named Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year 2020 and winner of the 2017 Ted Hughes Award for Surge: Side A, a cross-disciplinary exploration of the New Cross Fire in 1981. Jay’s short film Something Said has screened in the UK and internationally, including Aesthetica and Leeds International Film Festival (where it won best experimental and best queer short respectively), Sheffield DocFest and CinemAfrica. Recent work includes My Name is My Own, a physical performance piece in response to June Jordan, which premiered at Southbank Centre’s Poetry International.


Jay Bernard, Crystals of this Social Substance, 2021 was commissioned by Serpentine Education and curated by Alex Thorp, Jemma Egan, Ben Messih, and produced by Holly Shuttleworth. 

Contributions by young people from Alleyn’s School, The Baytree Centre, Brixton Youth Theatre, Dulwich College, High Trees Community Development Trust, and ML Community Enterprise.

Edited by Griff Hewis and original composition by Femi Oriogun-Williams.

Workshops held at Impact Brixton and Glows Tulse Hill.

Sound commissions supported by L-Acoustics Creations, presented in L-ISA Immersive Hyperreal Sound.

Curated by:

Alex Thorp, Curator, Education
Jemma Egan, Assistant Curator, Education
Ben Messih
Produced by:
Holly Shuttleworth

About Listening to the City

Listening to the City engages with a set of sonic landscapes from selected London neighbourhoods, paying attention to existing and lost spaces of gathering and belonging across the city. The programme was conceived and developed by Serpentine Education and Civic Projects for the Serpentine Pavilion 2021 designed by Counterspace.


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