Summer of Love, the exhibition curated by Katerina Gregos* at Art Space Pythagorion in the island of Samos (August 4 – October 15, 2017), borrows its title from the sociocultural phenomenon that took place fifty years ago in the summer of 1967.
The ‘Summer of Love’ refers to 1967 – because that was when the hippy culture, the underground alternative youth culture that had been brewing in America and Europe for several years, came to be clearly identified. The focus was San Francisco, where young people travelled from across America and beyond, attracted by the promise of the chance to cast off conservative social values, protesting war in Vietnam with peace and love; and ushering in an era of greater connectivity. Hippy culture embraced foreign travel as a means to find oneself and communicate with others, and the first backpackers set off on what became known as the ‘hippy trail’, through Europe, Greece and the Middle East to India. 1967 was also the year of the Six-Day War, which irrevocably changed the landscape of the Middle East; the effects of this are still being felt today. And in Greece, it was the year that marked the beginning of the seven-year military dictatorship.
Fifty years after the term was coined, the exhibition Summer of Love reflects on the unlikely liaison of love and politics, connecting the summer of 1967 to the world in 2017, where “the idea of love in intellectual and political circles is dismissed as simplistic and sentimental”.
Drawing from the ideas of Situationist International member Raoul Vaneigem and political philosopher Michael Hardt, Katerina Gregos observes that “there is a lot of love missing from the practice of politics today, which has become a technocratic, administrative bureaucracy furthering the neoliberal agenda… One could conceive of politics differently if one imagined love as a more generous, open, inclusive and positive political concept… Fifty years have gone by; the post-war baby boomers are ageing and dying, and their youthful ideals have largely died out. We might ask: what went wrong, when and why? What lessons can we learn? Should we rethink these ideals? Can we learn from the experiences and disappointments of the generation of 1967?”:
Collection International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam
At a time of increasing regression and conservatism, it seems timely to reflect on the legacy of 1967, which now appears as an unfinished project. Our world, by contrast, is predominantly governed by a mentality of individualism, avidly promoted by capitalism and corporate as well as consumer culture, while a consistent nourishing of xenophobia by nascent right-wing movements drives people to adopt an exclusive rather than inclusive outlook. Seeking to re-discover a lost optimism and find a way to survive within the challenging conditions of their present, a continuously increasing number of people are starting to look back to the ideas and ethos which were brought about during the Summer of 1967 and the 1960s in general. Commonality, sharing, and community mindsets are re-emerging, together with the rebirth of grass-root movements. Crisis-ridden Greece is a good example of this: hundreds of citizens’ initiatives have sprung up across the country, providing relief and working on the country’s systemic problems in areas like healthcare, education and the environment. Finally, a Greek island in the summer – in this case, Samos – is an ideal setting to talk about these issues. Against the backdrop of an economic meltdown and an ongoing crisis, what still seems to be keeping things together is strongly forged social relations in a society that still hasn’t been totally atomised. Summer of Love reminds us that it is vital to revisit the values that first came to the forefront fifty years ago if we are to imagine a better future.
The exhibition features the international premiere of the tetralogy of videos by Greek artist Nicolas Kozakis together with the philosopher Raoul Vaneigem, who look at Greece to re-consider contemporary Western values. Vaneigem’s transformative ideas from 1967 resonate in the current political climate, while Kozakis’ images ask us to consider a different way of living, inspired by a particular kind of ‘practice of everyday life’ in Greece, that perhaps still has something to teach us in relation to our increasingly frenetic modi operandi. The exhibition will also feature award-winning filmmaker Johan Grimonprez’ video Every Day Words Disappear (2016) – an interview with Michael Hardt with found footage from Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville (1965), in which a computer system has taken control of the city and outlawed concepts like love, poetry and emotion.
Also included will be Tomomi Itakura‘s Untitled (Signs) (2017), a series of signposts, which juxtaposes key concerns of 1967 and those of 2017, indicating how the world has changed in these fifty years. A series of historical posters from the collection of the International Institute of Social History also speaks of the urgent issues of 1967 – from the anti-Vietnam War movement, to civil rights, apartheid and the Palestinian cause. Uriel Orlow‘s 2013 work comprising several media, The Short and the Long of It, which has been further developed for this exhibition, relates to the fallout from the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and neighbouring states. The war left fourteen international cargo ships stranded in the Suez Canal until 1975, when it re-opened. The isolation experienced by the multinational crews of the ships resulted in a form of communal survival and the establishment of a self-contained social system that transcended religious, cultural and linguistic barriers.
Alphaville (1965), Jean-Luc Godard: Final scene
One of the key issues in 1967, whose legacy can still be felt today, is that of sexual and gender politics. Melanie Bonajo‘s film Economy of Love (2015) recalls the radical politics of the 1960s to meditate on issues around sexual liberation and ‘free love’ today. The video consists of personal accounts by three female sex workers, who see their profession as healers, and is a radical overhaul of the way we perceive them, from a decidedly feminist stance. There are also several new works, commissioned especially for the exhibition, which reflect on the quinquagenary of 1967. Mikhail Karikis has created an environment which functions as a kind of musical and reading lounge featuring iconic vinyl records from 1967, as well as books and essays by influential thinkers writing on love as a political event and a force with revolutionary potential. The records and books can be perused in a colourful sculptural environment, which also functions as a communal seating area. Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, viewers can be immersed into the words and sounds of 1967. Marko Mäetamm has created a series of images using texts from posters and banners used in protests and demonstrations in 2017, and presents them using visual aesthetics of the ‘Summer of Love’ posters from 1967, making a link between ideas of community and commonality then and now, and activating cultural memory. Finally, Marge Monko‘s new wallpaper installation for the exhibition, comprised of photographs and diagrams, looks into the role the contraceptive pill played in women’s sexual liberation and the ‘free love’ movement. The work traces a timeline when countries legalised the pill, looking in particular at the case of France, which did so in 1967.
Marge Monko, Lucy in the Sky (The More I Make Love, the More I Want To Make Revolution)
* Katerina Gregos is a curator, writer and lecturer based in Brussels. Her curatorial practice explores the relationship between art, society and politics with a particular view on questions of democracy, human rights, capitalism, crisis and changing global production circuits. She is currently chief curator of the 1st Riga Biennial (2018) and curator of the Schwarz Foundation, Munich. Gregos has served as founding director and curator of the Deste Foundation’s Centre for Contemporary Art in Athens, Artistic Director of Argos -Centre for Art and Media, Brussels and Artistic Director of Art Brussels.
Read more about the Summer of Love 50th anniversary: 50 years after summer of love, yuppies have replaced San Francisco’s hippies; California Historical Society
Summer of Love can be visited on Samos in the Art Space Pythagorion at the port of Pythagorion from August 4 until October 15, 2017