By Tom Jenkins
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Flower Power

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Review of 'Summer of Love - Art of the Psychedelic Era', Liverpool Tate
Issue 298

Summer of Love is, to quote the press release, ‘a ground-breaking exhibition to reveal the unprecedented exchanges between contemporary art, popular culture, civil unrest and moral upheaval during the 1960s and early 1970s.’ The exhibition ‘reconstructs the original creative and utopian potential of psychedelic art and locates it within the wider cultural and political context of the period’.

The psychedelic aesthetic, heavily influenced by the mind-altering effects of hallucinogenic drugs, appeared in all aspects of cultural production and provided a powerful expression of the sentiments of a generation in revolt, signifying nonconformity, individuality and freedom.

The exhibition unites seemingly disparate forms of expression from art, music and film to architecture and graphic design, accompanied by an impressive range of photography and samples from the underground press emerging in the 1960s – an instrument of alternative communication and democratisation that documents the major events and ideas of the era.

As a taster for the main exhibition, visitors can experience the mesmerising assume vivid astro focus video and light show. This new piece, the work of a New York based Brazilian artist who uses the pseudonym ‘avaf’, is an all-encompassing environment combining exuberant wallpaper designed by the artist and several video projections. Avaf’s ideology – to involve rather than exclude, and to undermine the idea of individual authorship – is remarkably brought to life through the hypnotic video shows which invite us to explore the dark, repetitive images and create our own interpretations, thus implicating us in avaf’s ideological project.

The main exhibition opens with a vast array of poster art from the 1960s and early 1970s. The psychedelic artwork, using revolutionary printing techniques and novel and distinct styles, served many purposes: the stark political message of the Chicago Student Mobilisation Committee’s call to ‘bring the troops home’ is presented alongside concert advertisements for the likes of Bob Dylan, The Who and Jimi Hendrix. The poster art of the San Francisco underground features the recurring image of the Native American. Hippies admired Native Americans for their communal living, closeness to nature and use of psychedelics, representing a resistance to the consumer-based culture of Western society.

The display of photography is equally diverse. The graphic images of wounded Vietnamese and American soldiers, the Grosvenor Square riots of 1968, an LSD meets CND event of 1966, and Pink Floyd at a London Free School Benefit help to capture the spirit of the times.

Cinema provided a perfect medium for the exploration of the psychedelic influence and is reflected in the exhibition by a range of innovative film-showings. Jud Yalkut’s The Beatles Electronique (1966) is an abstract piece that uses images of blinding neon lights interspersed with clips of The Beatles and glitchy, repetitive music. Dan Agnew’s Doppler Effect (1968) features a despairing soundtrack over a montage of images depicting scientific and technological advance, political figures of the time and sexual imagery to create a surreal, violent and disturbing film.

The psychedelic movement had a strong influence on architecture and design. The Summer of Love period brought new ideas based more on experience and ambience rather than authoritarian and hierarchical structures. This was reflected in designs for a new style of architecture using lightweight materials and curved structures. The acute sense of futurism of the new architectural movement was heavily influenced by space-age technology, in contrast to the earthier tendencies of the hippy movement. The exhibition features detailed but unrealised designs for futuristic new ways of living and utopian ideals of the perfect living space.

The exhibition is an experience that offers insight into a landmark period in the history of modern culture, a period that can teach and inspire the artists and activists of the movements of today.

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