About You Say You Want a Revolution? Exhibition

Take a trip through seven revolutions in five extraordinary years from 1966 to 1970.

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Revolution in youth identity

In April 1966 Time magazine dubbed London ‘The Swinging City’, reflecting its dramatic rise to the centre of world attention. A huge upheaval was taking place in British social and artistic morals. The thriving fashion and cultural scene of ‘Swinging London’ in the ’60s centred on the rise of clothing boutiques such as Bazaar on the King’s Road and Biba on Carnaby Street, which offered colourful new designs for the younger generation.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Revolution in the head

Mind-enhancement through the use of drugs formed the basis for new creative experimentation in music, art, film and literature. Based on the philosophy of the Beat Generation, drugs, music, and exotic religions drove the underground movement of the late 1960s. Psychedelic clubs, such as the Roundhouse and UFO Club in London combined music with light shows, avant-garde cinema, and dance troupes. This in turn inspired a new vibrancy in artwork and design. This spirit of experimentation was shared by bands who used new technologies and sounds.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Revolution in the street

In the 1960s, politics and the fight against the establishment was taken to the streets. In May 1968, the French Government nearly fell due to a massive strike by students and workers, and unrest spread across Europe. People around the world opposed the war in Vietnam. The 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York were a turning point for gay rights’ activists, and women’s liberation groups demonstrated to demand equality. The Black Panthers argued for armed protection as the civil rights struggle evolved into new campaigns about inner city poverty.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Revolution in consuming

The rapid increase in personal wealth and arrival of the credit card fed the expansion of consumerism which was increasingly linked to patriotism. The 1967 Montreal and 1970 Osaka World Expos offered visions of a consumer future and welcomed tens of millions of visitors to a vast showcase of mass design and technology products. The rise in television ownership brought real time news coverage of the Vietnam War and the moon landings into people’s homes. The Expos and moon landings might be seen as proponents of a ‘modernist view’, yet the end of the decade saw a parallel growing disillusionment with modernism amongst the young which motivated an increased political engagement.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Revolution in living

As contrast to the consumer culture found in cities, record-breaking crowds gathered together to listen to music at outdoor festivals in parks and often in the countryside. This was driven by the utopian vision of living as part of a community, in nature. This section explores the permissive, libertarian hippy and festival culture of the 1960s which was a complete contrast to the conservative living of the post-war years. One of the most famous of these was the three-day Woodstock Festival ‘of peace and music’ in 1969. Iconic Woodstock performances are now considered integral to the inventive counterculture and political thought of the ’60s, such as Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and Country Joe and the Fish’s anti-Vietnam War statement ‘I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixing-To-Die-Rag’.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Revolution in communicating

The West Coast of America was the birthplace of a variety of alternative communities. Communes proliferating in California and elsewhere were grounded in psychedelic rock, sexual liberation, rejection of institutions and ‘back to the land’ philosophy. They were also underpinned by the belief that sharing the world’s physical resources and human knowledge more equitably was the basis of a better future. This ideology also inspired the pioneers of modern personal computing, as well as the realisation that it is the responsibility of humans to protect the planet, resulting in International Earth Day and the foundation of Greenpeace in 1970. Environmentalism and the personal computing/cyberspace revolution are among the wide-ranging legacies left by hippies and ideas of communalism of the ’60s.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

An on-going-revolution

Looking back, the 1960s still generates heated debate. The roots of many of today’s key concerns – from environmentalism to personal computing to neo-liberalism – can be identified in this era.

What does it mean for you today? And what might it mean for tomorrow?