Biennale: Creative, Colourful, Captivating!
The decoration of a May Ball is one of the most important aspects of these events. Pembroke did not disappoint.
Biennale was the theme. Meaning, simply, biennial or ‘every other year’ in Italian, within the art world ‘biennale’ denotes large-scale contemporary art exhibitions, and was popularised by the Venice Biennale first held in 1895. Given the scale of the Venice Biennale (in 2003, it had seven co-curators, and today it has an attendance of over 500,000) this was a bold theme to choose.
Immediately upon entering the College it became apparent that organisers had approached their task with enthusiasm and real skill. Suspended above Old Court was a series of illuminated wire figures, perfectly lit and shaped to seem as if they had been frozen in a moment of dance. They may draw to mind Antony Gormley’s Exposure or Polyhedra series, but the differences are apparent; Polyhedra Works uses geometry as an alternative structural principle to anatomy, and Exposure, designed to remain and react through time, invites more thought of the long-term than the still-life quality of Pembroke’s suspended figures. They might more easily be compared with Rachel Ducker’s suspended wire sculptures, which, like the Old Court installation, somehow give a sense of perpetual life and motion whilst also being unavoidably rooted in time and space. Reminiscent, in some ways, of Pembroke itself!
At Pembroke we feel very connected to our history, but equally we value the ways that each new generation shapes and adds to the College. The decoration of the Hall was a perfect representation of this. Portraits of past Valencians who have made significant contributions not just to the College but to the wider world as well – such as ‘RAB’ Butler, who introduced free secondary schooling across the UK – have in previous years been a focal point for engaging with our history, values, and future hopes. During the PemWomen@30 celebrations, portraits were covered by images of six of the more recently appointed, and six of the longest serving female Fellows. The installation arose from a desire to think more broadly about diversity and inclusion whilst visually representing the spirit and aspirations of the celebration.
The May Ball installation was more light-hearted but intriguing in its own right. The existing portraits were re-imagined in contemporary styles, from Dalí to pop-art. This installation responded to the theme of Biennale whilst also encouraging a renewed engagement with the portraits we become used to seeing every day in Hall. It was also an exhibition of the skill of the students whose creativity enabled such an imaginative installation.
Biennale was a visual experience, beautifully lit and decorated, with as many spaces for engagement with art as there were for pure fun and enjoyment. Well done to everyone involved!