EXPERIENCE A SPECTACULAR JOURNEY THROUGH PINK FLOYD’S FIRST EXHIBITION AT V&A.
The name V&A (Victoria & Albert Museum) often calls to mind a museum of great expertise and some of the most memorable exhibitions related to pop culture, especially when considering how over the past ten years, V&A has curated highly successful retrospectives such as the Vivienne Westwood (2004), Kylie Minogue (2007) and David Bowie (2013) exhibitions that welcomed an overwhelming number of attendees, followed by additional years of global exposure as traveling exhibitions. Naturally, when we heard about the coming of The Pink Floyd Exhibition : Their Mortal Remains by V&A, we expected it to be something spectacular, fun and somewhat easy to digest. And while ‘fun’ and ‘digestible’ aren’t exactly the words one would use to explain the music, they are reflective of the shows and designs that a legendary rock band from England like Pink Floyd created throughout their glorious five decades in the history of music.
THE VISUALS BECAME THE BAND’S STRONGEST SELLING POINT, ATTRACTING CROWDS TO THEIR SHOWS WITH NOT THAT MUCH ATTENTION ACTUALLY BEING GIVEN TO THE BAND MEMBERS
The exhibition takes us through the journey of the band since its early years, with the audience being welcomed through the replica of a van the band used when they started touring. The vehicle takes us on a ride through a time tunnel decorated with Bridget Riley’s Op art spectacles and into the 1960s’ psychedelic music scene where a group of architecture students formed a band called Pink Floyd and together pioneered the use of visuals in their concert performances through the basic techniques that the technology was able to offer back in those days. The visuals became the band’s strongest selling point, attracting crowds to their shows with not that much attention actually being given to the band members, despite the fact that they were all very good looking young men.
Throughout the first part of the show, the content is divided chronologically following the band’s released albums. Each of the exhibited objects encapsulates the band’s journey through different periods via musical instruments, tools used for the creation of visual effects in their concerts, as well as their show’s posters and album artwork. These objects are displayed alongside the video where the band’s members and the legendary minds they collaborated with during the early years explain the processes and concepts. The section ends with the release of ‘The Dark Side of the Moon,’ the album that brought Pink Floyd under the spotlight and granted the band explosive fame.
As Pink Floyd was becoming one of the mighty forces of the progressive rock genre during the 70s, the band never ceased to experiment with new techniques. In addition to the new, original sounds they were bringing into the industry, the band went the extra mile with the design of their album cover that welcomed Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis to create a surreal ambience via the most authentic of setups one could ever ask for considering the fact that Photoshop hadn’t even been invented yet. We’re talking about the setting of a stuntman on fire for the cover of ‘Wish You Were Here’ or the releasing of helium-filled inflatable pink pig balloons above Battersea Power Station for the cover of ‘Animals.’ The behind-the-scenes stories of these iconic images are presented in great detail within the exhibition.
To explain the place of Pink Floyd’s music in the society contextually, the exhibition provides some background information that allows for the audience to understand the economic, political and social climates surrounding the band at the time. Telephone booths are used to provide viewers with hints about important events that occurred throughout the fifty year timeline, with each booth displaying magazines, newspapers, photographs from the news and stories of the band featured in different publications. What these clues do is help to connect the dots between the subject matter and the lyrics of Pink Floyd’s songs for viewers to reach a more profound level of understanding. Some of the miscellaneous tidbits from these stories became interesting and delightful pieces of information, whether it be the arrival of punk and its unpolished rawness that stands almost at the opposite end of Pink Floyd’s music, including the adaptation the band had to go through in order to maintain their popularity, or the backstory of ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ and the song’s critique on the educational system as well as the characters featured in the song.
The evolution of the band’s live performance sees the development of their lighting system and the use of animation while the members’ backgrounds in architecture contributed to their progressive stage designs, be it the circular screen, construction of a wall on stage that gradually separated the audience from the band during one of Pink Floyd’s legendary live performances or the presence of gigantic, moveable inflatable robots that interact with the musicians on stage. Several of Pink Floyd’s major shows challenged both technical limitations and structure, as well as logistical systems. The solutions they came up with brought about new developments in every aspect of their live performance experiences to the point where a separate section of the exhibition called Architects of Rock is included in the program and pretty much shocks the audience with both its colossal scale as well as the recreation of the massive wall and the haunting teacher puppet from The Wall concert housed within the museum’s space.
The final part of the exhibition features the iconic moments of Pink Floyd after they had achieved the status of one of the world’s greatest bands. Such standing comes from the band’s power to express their creative and artistic freedom. Viewers get to take a closer look at these moments in this part of the show via the footage of 700 hospital beds being transported and installed on the beach for A Momentary Lapse of Reason, the Metal Heads sculpture by The Division Bell or the acclaimed mirror ball that rose up from the middle of the stadium and burst into mesmerizing illuminated flower petals at the band’s PULSE concert.
The timeline continues to the present day and culminates with their last album, The Endless River, which was dedicated to the band’s passed keyboard player, Rick Wright and the announcement of Pink Floyd’s disbandment. The last telephone booth is left empty with the unforeseeable future and accompanied by video footage with lighting and sounds that simulate the atmosphere of London’s club scene back in 1967, the year when Pink Floyd was beginning their career in music. Following is the world of symbolic representations from the music video ‘High Hopes’ before the journey ends with the leading of the audience into the last reunion of the four members where the song Comfortably Numb from 2005’s Live 8 concert is playing, perfectly wrapping up the ‘Pink Floyd experience’ in a pretty straightforward manner.
If ‘David Bowie is’ is an attempt to explore and understand the diverse definitions of one of the most influential figures of Pop Culture, ‘Their Mortal Remains’ presents the opposite in the sense that it intentionally chooses not to focus on the band’s individual presence. The exhibition digs deep into Pink Floyd’s creative repertoire including those who were involved in the making of such legend. These expressions and collaborations have become strong foundations for other developments in music to take place and prosper. ‘Their Mortal Remains’ is, therefore, not just THE show that every Pink Floyd devotee should be sure not to miss, but also another significant archive of the world’s music industry and pop culture.
TEXT: WEE VIRAPORN