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Pallavi Paul will present a new installation, Terra Firma, at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge this autumn, inspired by the secrecy and histories of the top-secret Codebreakers of Bletchley Park.

During a residency at Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridgeshire in Spring 2017, Paul visited and accessed archival material from the Bletchley Park collection for Terra Firma. The new commission will be installed as a ‘carpet’ in Gallery 8 of the Fitzwilliam Museum, amongst the collections of 16th to 18th century Spanish and Flemish art. With the upholstery acting as a textual landscape on which museum visitors can walk, the text on the carpet appears like concrete poems. The central motif is the word ‘secret’, with changing permutations of words around it. These concrete poems are composed to visually look like code and will contribute a distinct, stylistic accent to the gallery.

The installation is inspired by the secrecy surrounding the work that was being undertaken at Bletchley Park during WWII. A lot of these histories, especially those of espionage, remain outside of the mainstream narrative fold. Under obligation to never reveal anything about the war effort, the possible witnesses to these moments – through whom a story could have been produced – have either departed or struggled with failing and inconsistent memories. In suggesting and speculating, rather than reporting on what happened there, via this new work, many kinds of actions and triumphs can be imagined.

Pallavi Paul explains, “The word ‘Terra Firma’ means dry earth. Mostly used in comparison to water or air- dryness can evoke safety but also aridity. This work plays on the possibility of speculation amidst the imperatives of ‘(H)istory’ making, it doubles up as a place of rest and provocation at once. Visitors are encouraged to walk over, read, read-aloud, lie, sit, roll on these words – for them to find new lives both within and beyond the museum.”

The commission ties in with a new exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum this autumn – Codebreakers and Groundbreakers (24 October to 4 February 2018), exploring the groups involved in breaking WWII codes and those who deciphered the ancient script of Linear B – Europe’s earliest comprehensible writing system. Terra Firma will be installed just before the entrance to the exhibition, responding artistically and philosophically to the Codebreakers and Groundbreakers exhibition.

Terra Firma is also part of the University of Cambridge’s India Unboxed series celebrating 70 years of Indian Independence. Malavika Anderson, Programmer of India Unboxed commented: “We are delighted to be showcasing a fascinating new artwork by a contemporary Indian artist. The India Unboxed programme shows Cambridge’s connections with India, not only through our historic collections, but also by creating new responses to our work today.”

As part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, Pallavi Paul will be in conversation about her new work, Terra Firma on Friday 27 October, 13.15-14.00 in the Fitzwillliam Museum’s Seminar Room (35).

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