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London – “You Say You Want a Revolution?” exhibition positively transforms the approach to the 1996 – 1970 period, at the V&A Museum.
The “Section 5: Revolution in living” focuses on the hundreds of thousands who flocked to the new experience of vast music festival, such as ‘Woodstock, An Aquarian Exposition’ on August 1969. It also considers early UK festivals, including Glastonbury and the Isle of Wight Festival of Music in 1970.
This double height gallery space focuses on festivals and revolutions in gatherings. It demonstrates how record-breaking crowds gathered to listen to music, often driven by a utopian vision of living together in harmony and in nature. Instruments, costumes and ephemera are shown against a theatrical backdrop of large screens playing festival video from Woodstock (1969), which saw more than 400,000 people joining together for four days of peace and music, and live tracks recorded at the event play throughout the space. Performers’ costumes are on display including a kaftan worn by American rock diva Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane, a native American style suit worn by The Who’s lead singer Roger Daltry and a jacket and guitar belonging to Jimi Hendrix. Also on show is hippie-style fashion, from a Thea Porter kaftan to Levi’s® jeans styled with an Ossie Clarke shirt. The exhibition also looks at the behind-the-scenes of Woodstock, showing the organisation behind, from artists’ contracts to the canteen menu for staff.
Dedicated to the transformation of the counterculture into cyberculture, “Section 6: Revolution in Communicating” presents the changes in the USA, San Francisco and the West Coast, as the 1967 Summer of Love faded into the 1970s.
This section examines the alternative communities living on the USA’s West Coast during the period as the birthplace of a revolution in communications. Alternative communities in California and elsewhere lived in parallel with those of the modern computing pioneers. The firsts were involved in psychedelic rock, sexual liberation, refusal of institutions and a ‘back to the land’ philosophy. Both shared a belief that partaking human knowledge more equitably was the basis of a better world. This emphasis is epitomised by the Whole Earth Catalog, the American counterculture magazine published by Stewart Brand and later referred to by Steve Jobs as ‘Google in paperback form’. A soundtrack reminding the force of communal living includes California Dreamin by The Mamas & The Papas and The 5th Dimension’s Aquarius / Let the Sunshine In. On display is a replica of the first ever computer mouse designed by Douglas Engelbart and a rare Apple 1 computer. The exhibition also looks at the emphasis on environmentalism beginning in the late 1960s, with a poster for the first Earth Day designed by Robert Rauschenberg presented alongside a psychedelic Save Earth Now poster.
The last one is “Section 7: an ongoing Revolution”. It looks back at the 1960s, which still generates heated debate. The roots of many of today’s crucial worrying can be identified with this period. This section closes by tracing the idealism of the late 1960s to its heirs, from civil rights to multiculturalism, environmentalism, consumerism, computing, communality and neoliberal politics. It reminds to visitors how the ideals of the 1960s have shaped today. It supports unearthing an imaginative optimism to improve our tomorrow. Here a unique vitrine closes this back in time trip, showing memorabilia from the iconic song ‘Image’ by John Lennon, which ends a path of handwritten lyrics from The Beatles or their single members running through the entire exhibition.
The title of the V&A Museum exhibition, in fact, comes from a song which handwritten lyrics are on display too: “You say you want a revolution / Well, you know / We all want to change the world” (The Beatles, Revolution, 1968).
In the 1960s, Vidal Sassoon revolutionised the hairdressing creating geometric haircuts that defined the decade style. Therefore, within the exhibition “You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970” a hair salon was opened. At the ‘Sassoon Sunday Salon’, a proper and live haircutting, every weekend visitors can see competitor winners receive a signature style.
Martin Roth, the now resigning Director of the V&A, said: “This ambitious framing of late 1960s counterculture shows the incredible importance of that revolutionary period to our lives today. This seminal exhibition will shed new light on the wide-reaching social, cultural and intellectual changes of the late 1960s which followed the austerity of the post-war years, not just in the UK but throughout the Western world. Our collections at the V&A, unrivalled in their scope and diversity, make us uniquely placed to present this exhibition.”
Objects are drawn from the extensive V&A’s varied collections, alongside important loans to highlight connections between people, places, music and movements across the UK, Europe and the USA.
The collection of the cult radio presenter and musical tastemaker John Peel provide a musical odyssey through some of the greatest music and performance of the 20th century from Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come to The Who’s My Generation to Jimi Hendrix live at Woodstock.
Music is played through Sennheiser headsets using innovative audio guide technology which adapts the sound to
the visitor’s position in the gallery. Sound is integrated with video and moving image, including interviews with key figures from the period including Yoko Ono, Stewart Brand and Twiggy, psychedelic light shows and seminal films including Easy Rider and 2001: A Space Odyssey to create a fully immersive and dramatic audiovisual experience.
The exhibition is curated by Geoffrey Marsh, Director of the V&A’s Department of Theatre and Performance and Victoria Broackes, a curator in the Department of Theatre and Performance and Head of Performance Exhibitions.
2D graphic design and 3D exhibition design by Nissen Richards Studio Ltd. AV software design and production by FRAY Studio. Sound design by Carolyn Downing. Lighting design by Studio ZNA.
The exhibition is in partnership with the Levi’s brand; Sound experience by Sennheiser With additional support from the Grow Annenberg Foundation, Fenwick and Sassoon.
(This article firstly published on 27th february 2017).
“You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970” exhibition was at the V & A Museum, London, from 10th September 2016 until 26th February 2017.