The V&A’s You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels exhibition will transport you back to the late 1960’s, a time when the youth of the time ruled the streets and the air was thick with the threat of revolution and a war against the harsh government rulings of the time.
Upon arriving at the exhibition you are given a set of headphones and an audio player, whether this actually enhances or distracts from the experience can be somewhat debatable, however it has to be said that I myself found it startlingly difficult not to enjoy listening to some of my most favorite bands and musicians (The Small Faces, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix to name a few..) from the late 1960’s whilst learning about things such as who exactly designed Barbarella’s silver swimsuit, or what exactly people wore to Woodstock.
The exhibition begins with a recreation of Carnaby Street in the 1960’s; it is here that we are immediately introduced to London fashion culture in the 1960’s. A variation of different pieces are displayed, perhaps most notably so the highly chic Mary Quant jacket and skirt suit, made from William Morris Marigold print. Mary Quant was a brand at the forefront of the 1960’s fashion scene, creating youthful, easy to wear styles. Further into the exhibition we see not only what the youth of the 1960’s wore, but also how they did their hair. Part of the exhibition is held in a barbershop setting, complete with mannequins in swivel chairs getting their hair cut. It is here we see the extreme lines and shapes of 1960’s hair, worn by mannequins in silver metallic 60’s shift dresses.
One of the things I found most intriguing was the various arrays of posters on display. These posters really capture the story behind the exhibition; they were a way for the youth to express their feelings and ideas free of government control. Posters for causes such as gender equality, gay rights – things that are still major concerns in today’s society, can be found within the exhibition.
The exhibition also touches upon consumerism during 1966-1970, where it seems that the desirability of goods came to be no longer tied to usefulness but instead to an ever-evolving lifestyle for the young. It is in this part of the exhibition, in a vast white room, that we see the iconic Campbell paper souper dress, manufactured by Campbell soup as a promotional item and designed to represent the exchange between contemporary art consumers and disposability.
By far the most captivating part of the exhibition is its recreation of Woodstock Festival. Lying on a bean bag chair on the faux grass flooring among strangers, listening to Jimi Hendrix and gazing up at Keith Moon’s drum kit, it is in this room that we are able to experience the festival that the youth of the late 60’s used to gather at. And if you don’t fancy that, perusing the various different outfits of Woodstock’s different performers is just as captivating. An array of fringe, tye dye, kaftans and flare jeans can be found in this cornucopia of classic 1960’s bohemian festival fashion.
Overall, I can easily say that the V&A’s You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels provides a fully immersive experience. The music, provided through the headphones given to you upon arrival, provides an insight into some of the music that inspired revolution among young people during the late 1960’s. Particularly artists like The Beatles, who feature heavily in the exhibition. The exhibition ends almost perfectly with John Lennon’s Imagine playing through the headphones as we exit through the back doors, leaving us feeling reflective and optimistic about all of the changes that this time of revolution brought about, and where that leaves us today.