I felt a bit silly writing the blog this week. With everything that’s happened recently, London’s exhibitions hardly seems the most important thing to discuss. Actually, the day I left aside for writing this post happened to be the one following the presidential election and drinking myself to death/wandering around a graveyard, weeping/ staying in and listening to sad music all day, seemed like more appropriate actions. So, apologies for the lateness of this post. The exhibition which I wanted to tell you about was the V & A’s You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970. And in the end, an exploration of this era of intense politicisation, generational division and potential apocalypse actually seemed quite relevant.
I’ve always had a difficult, love/hate relationship with the sixties myth. Possibly because I associate it too much with long-haired, stoner boys at house parties informing me that nothing original has been created since 1974 ( an assumption I wholeheartedly rebuke). It’s easy to mythologise the era in a shallow, kitschy way; you can buy ‘hippie costumes’ in joke shops complete with long haired wig, Lennon glasses and fringed jerkin. But this exhibition reminded me of the immense social and political legacy of the era, both positive and negative. The sixties wasn’t one long drug-fuelled orgy, nor was it all riots and rebels, for many it was probably just the same as any other ten year period. Undoubtedly though, a social movement occurred during this short time that triggered genuine policy change on issues of race, gender and sexuality. And that’s pretty rad.
The ticket price includes a free headset, which is essential to enjoyment and understanding of the exhibition. Instead of a well spoken voice droning on about the providence of the artifacts on show, the headset plays all ur fave 60s tracks, changing the music as you move around the exhibition. I often feel like I could do with some kind of playlist when I’m walking around museums and galleries but it’s hard to curate the perfect soundtrack yourself. The music multiplies the evocative energy of the exhibition by about a million and also made me feel like I was in a really chilled out, silent disco. It was this kind of music that I listened to when I was 12 years old and first felt the cold sting of pre-teen angst. The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix; these are the guys that got me into music before pitchfork was even a thing .Whatever you say about the genuine political impact of the 60s ‘revolution’, you can’t deny the cultural achievements of this generation.
The problem with the exhibition was that, whilst it managed to evoke a sense of this vast and varied era, it failed to explore anything in much depth. Clearly, these guys bit off more than anyone could hope to chew. Though they don’t necessarily leave anything out, they ended up exploring a large number of cultural phenomena and historical events with a somewhat shallow analysis. For instance, second wave feminism and the gay rights movement share a tiny corner in between the Black Panthers and the Paris riots. The upside of this fact is that it gives the visitor some sense of how mental a time this really was. In one corner is Mao’s cultural revolution, opposite is the Kent State shooting. It’s hard to know where to look. I got the sense that I could have gone back for a second visit and the experience might have been completely different. Basically its a big ole’ exhibition is what I’m trying to tell you.
It ends by asking us how much this era has impacted on our world today. Whilst amazing leaps were made in issues of personal freedom: Woman’s Rights, LGBT Rights, Civil Rights, many of the problems and fears faced by the youth of the sixties, are still faced today. It was both heartening and depressing to know that a generation so far removed from ours tackled the same issues. Especially when considering our recent, brexit-fuelled generational divide. It’s hard to know what I was supposed to take away from the exhibition, I felt a little teary but I couldn’t really work out why. Possibly it was just that the headphones were squishing my ears too much. Anyway it was an interesting and thought-provoking experience so I give it a good Artsy, even if it was a little unfocused.
You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 runs until 26th February 2016
Tickets are £16.00