From September 10 to February 26 the Victoria and Albert museum are holding an exhibition entitled ‘You Say You Want A Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970’. It documents the fascinating subculture and social revolution of the 1960s.
The appeal of the 60s appears to be immortal. There is something inherently cool in the idea of society’s outcasts coming together to create something great, be it significant social change or the vision of Woodstock. The reality is that these were deeply troubled times, and any revolutionary ideals came out of necessity. Something I felt the V&A did particularly well was balance the excitement, fashions and flair of the decade with a realistic representation of the issues faced. The 60s wasn’t all sugar-coated psychedelic pop and free love, and this exhibition acknowledges that.
Upon entering the exhibition each ticket holder is given a pair of Sennheiser headphones (the company also provided the audio experience for the renowned ‘David Bowie Is…’ exhibition at the V&A in 2013). Whilst walking down the hallway towards the entrance, the jangling chords of The Who’s ‘Magic Bus’ begin to play, before you come face to face with an entourage of album covers from the era, alongside quotes from the likes of Bob Dylan. The audio then synchronises with a film featuring famous faces of the decade talking about their feelings looking back. Twiggy, for example: ‘It was a time when you didn’t need much money to survive.’
From this point, you are taken into a room that defines the set dates of the exhibition (1966-1970) and sets the scene with artefacts such as the chair from the famous Christine Keeler photoshoot, John Lennon’s glasses, and poetry from writers such as William Blake that inspired the beat poets.
Meanwhile, the soundtrack chosen by the V&A evokes a great deal of emotion; Sam Cooke’s velvet voice on ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ speaks of the deep injustice ingrained in society and reminds you of the reality of the real world, while you look at the brilliant colours of psychedelic paintings that aim to take you away from it.
After a series of rooms, presenting subjects ranging from psychedelia to societal revolutions of the time, the exhibition culminates in a surreal representation of Woodstock, where those who feel so inclined can lounge on the beanbags spread across fake plastic grass and take in a massive projection of footage from the festival. This last room feels a little contrived, but then again, perhaps this is fitting considering the modern reincarnation of the festival dream, with sponsors, flooded wifi and glamping.
It was an ambitious mission for the V&A to bring together every aspect of an era where things changed overnight. The result is therefore completely over
whelming, but this should come as no surprise. Thinking back on it, the experience of attending the exhibition is a colourful blur, although as the comedian Charlie Fleischer observed, ‘If you remember the ‘60s, you really weren’t there’ so for an exhibition that aimed to faithfully recreate the decade, perhaps this is a desirable result.
The end of the exhibition also considers the changes made between 1966-1970, and the ripples of those changes that we can still see in today’s society. Although the outlook seems positive, in a world where war continues to ravage the lives of innocent people and police brutality in America (the black panther movement was a particular focus of the exhibition) is an ongoing issue, it is perhaps more important than ever to consider the 60s values of peace, love and the fight for an equal society. After all, the times, they are still a-changin’.