The V&A is well known for its awe inspiring curations. From the old to the new, clothing to engineering, tangible to the intangible, it never ceases to encapsulate the essence of its subject’s source and influence. However, every now and then it tackles a subject that is so hard to define by a single medium that it must resort to an eclectic mélange that will require you to spend a whole day ambling through its many artefacts. Its latest exhibit is just this.
You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 - 1970is a minefield of distractions. From the moment you walk in you are greeted with the sounds of the sixties, quotes from Bob Dylan and the likes, seminal works of art and hand written lyrics by Lennon and McCartney that align you with the vivid history of London’s cultural upheaval. You drift from music to fashion, then film and design, literature and of course recreational drug use, through the Middle Earth movement and into vast swathes of psychedelic album and gig poster artworks. The UFO and Grateful Dead posters with their mixed mediums are strikingly evocative. More so than in the decades that followed, this period of musical artwork clearly reflected current ideas and now exist as works of art that still have relevance in the 21st Century. This section of the exhibition is almost library like, with real texts for you to pick up and read. Unfortunately, there are no bean bags.
The second of the five rooms picks out key events and movements: second wave feminism, gay liberation, Black Panthers and Martin Luther King with Cassius Clay days before he changed his name after a religious awakening, Nazis and police brutality in the face of social unrest and resistance, cases of self-immolation in objection to war and other extreme acts of defiance flying in the face of the half-truth the media pedals. Meanwhile collage-style audio playlist of helicopters, TV static, crowds yelling and screaming helps set the scene and to an extent assaults the senses. The third and fourth rooms explore the new world of advertising and selling lifestyles – then futurism, the World Fair and space travel.
On the whole the journey is visually stimulating, grasping at your imagination with sounds and layers of texture, making you long to be there in the late sixties feeling the waves of the free love era and genre defining music coursing through your veins. Then it shocks you and again makes you feel the pain and the struggle at the violence and intolerance - dispelling romantic visions a golden era on the road to utopia.
The last room is dedicated solely to Woodstock. I will not ruin the surprise, but I suggest you leave ten minutes of your time for it alone as you can relax and experience the festival in vivid colour, again with a smattering of artefacts from some of histories best loved musicians. While this room is a slightly odd pastiche to the era in a very un V&A manner it does allow us time to reflect on the experience before returning to the present day.
Day 1: Friday, August 15 1969:
Richie Havens, Sweetwater, Bert Sommer, Tim, Hardin, Ravi shankar, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez
Day 2: Saturday, August 16 1969
Quill, Country Joe McDonald, John B. Sebastian, Keef Hartley Band, Santana, Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Grateful Dead, Leslie West & Mountain, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane
Day 3: Sunday, August 17 1969
Joe Cocker, Country Joe & The Fish, Ten Years After, Johnny Winter, Blood Sweat And Tears, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Day 4: Monday, August 18 1969
Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na, Jimi Hendrix
Here’s a link to the exhibition.
Also on at the V&A is the Engineering of the World: Ove Arup and the Philosophy of Total Design.
‘Ove Arup (1895-1988) was the most influential engineer of the 20th century and the pioneer of a multidisciplinary approach to design that has defined the way engineering is understood and practiced today.’
Edward Webb, Middleweight Digital Designer