The many plastic cups and the bright daylight that shines from behind the velor curtains on the still wet floor betrays that we are looking at ‘the day after’. We see a kind of altar in which all kinds of meaningful objects are suitable: banners, statuettes, a costume, ties, books. Lilies lie between the objects. Two motorcyclists flank the gaudy structure. The whole is reminiscent of a beautiful still life and a vanitas in one. For the transience of the feast and the transience of the flowers betray an allegorical scene.
That scene has to do with the history of the Leiden student society Minerva and also the place of action. The reason for the narrative, staged photo series ‘Minerva for life’ was the 200th anniversary of this Leiden student society. Selected for his carefully constructed performances, Jeronimus van Pelt was given access to this student world that normally remains closed to non-members. He was given a free hand to reimagine Minerva within his own artistic vision.
The scenes were meticulously conceived, built and directed by Van Pelt. Former members who now occupy their social function play a contemplative or active role in some scenes. For example, in a scene in which Goddess Minerva sends stupidity away - young boys with neckties like donkey’s ears - politician Hans van Balen in the role of the neutral spectator. In another scene we recognize writer Nelleke Noordervliet. An exclusively female company is holding a board meeting here. The chairman leans her hammer on a sumptuously set table. Fertility, emancipation, knowledge and power all united in the female figure. It seems like a hint to a matriarchal society.
The photos tell about the mores and the rituals of the society. The vehemence of society life, in which life seems to be lived in an enlarged form, revolves around preparing young people for their place in society. But the symbolism in the scenes goes further. Life within the club, Van Pelt seems to say, is a combination of what our life is all about. Because in line with your social life, your social role and the knowledge you acquire, there are the issues that everyone has to deal with. In personifications and (sometimes personal) symbolism, Van Pelt depicted love, fertility and transience.
Art history as an important source of inspiration we see here, just as in other photo series. The theatrical staged approach with its exuberant symbolism is reminiscent of Dutch genre painting. And in materiality and texture, light and light, composition and in the contemplative role of figures who are partly outside the scene, the painting of Vélazquez, Rembrandt or Van Eyck echoes.
Photography: Jeronimus van Pelt - Styling: Eric Stofmeel, Ton of Holland and Jeronimus van Pelt - Lighting: Eric Stofmeel and Thomas Heere - Production: Peter Reijn, Lavinia Lurvink, Mette Visser, and Josephine Cleyndert - Make up: Milla Kramenstetter and Chistel Mijers - Clothing: OGER, Maison de Bonneterie and Minerva - Printed: Durst Lambda photo print semi-matte glued behind 3 mm Truelife perspex on a 3mm black acrylic with a 20mm black hanging system, size 90 cm x 120 cm
Minerva’s society building is used in every nook and crevice. Old and new traditions introduced by many generations of members find their significance in the Mores and the more tangible attributes. The members grow up to become Alumni, they’ll return to the building every now and then, but the introduced stuff remains behind. The Members are here only for a short while, Minerva is forever!
Acquiring knowledge and gaining one’s position in the world is what the scene at the fireplace is about. Goddess Minerva shoves stupidity aside. The fresh men are like human donkeys, blazing pink piglets in the worn awayness of times passed, sternly sent away under the watchful eye of the seniors. New alliances are being forged, brotherhoods created, the fundament lain for friendships for life.
The ladies gather in an exclusive female meeting. They’re a sight for sore eyes, showing their magnificent beauty wearing their fine evening dresses and precious jewelry. Combativeness and sexuality. The homogeneity of the group emphasizes the power of female superiority. These civilised women, wearing their impractical footwear, look like they’ll gracefully stride away to actually take matters in hand.
At the basis of this massive romp there might well have been a serious difference of opinion. The truth, that ship has sailed: the dispute must be settled at all costs! Reluctantly the loser shares a beer with the victor. Constantly looking for an opportunity to settle the disagreement for good, in their own favour.
Let’s romp around!
The merger portrayed: the conformation of the Leiden based students corps ‘Virtus Concordia Fides’ (1839) with the Association of Female students in Leiden (1900) into student society ‘Minerva’. It is always mating season in the ‘Hifi’ disco. As in any disco, the girls invite the guys to ‘come hither’. They will.
A stage within a stage. Beautifully polished actors depict the Mores, the special rules that are the cement of Minerva life. Not to be taken too seriously, laugh out loud at them. But never TOO loud.