SUMMER OF LOVE
Art Space Pythagorion, Greece
04.08. — 15.10.2017
Participating artists: Melanie Bonajo | Johan Grimonprez | International Institute Of Social History | Tomomi Itakura | Marko Mäetamm | Mikhail Karikis | Nicolas Kozakis & Raoul Vaneigem | Uriel Orlow | Marge Monko
Summer of Love, borrowed its title from the sociocultural phenomenon that took place fifty years ago in the summer of 1967. While in Europe the year 1968 might have more of a legendary status due to the student uprisings in Paris and the Prague Spring, 1967 was in many ways a more significant year in terms of geopolitical, cultural and intellectual developments. It was 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. In Greece, it was the year that marked the beginning of the seven-year military dictatorship. Ironically, it was also the year that the U.K. applied for EEC membership. In the U.S. and all over the world, 1967 also saw the first major political protests by young people against the war in Vietnam. At the same time, the outburst of new popular and subcultural music was one of the defining features of the 'Summer of Love'.
It was also a year of significant intellectual production. Critical theorist Guy Debord published his Society of the Spectacle, while the Belgian philosopher and key Situationist International member Raoul Vaneigem – who features in this exhibition – published The Revolution of Everyday Life. While Debord's Society of the Spectacle was concerned with how the mechanisms of capital and consumption generate alienation, Vaneigem's book proposed the possibility of revolutionary changes in everyday life. He imagined a new society that 'promotes the participation of everyone in the self-realisation of everyone else', based on 'creativity, love and play'. In today's regressive climate of fear and xenophobia, Vaneigem's thesis seems ever more pertinent.
The exhibition Summer of Love looked back to this seminal year on its fiftieth anniversary, drawing attention to an era when both the concept of politics and love possessed a real sense of urgency. The 'Summer of Love' was one of the many expressions of the counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s. It was an era of civil disobedience, of anti-authoritarianism, of political protest and 'flower power'. Political activism translated into socio-cultural activism, alternative lifestyles (sexual freedom, communes, shared property). Many young people at the time grew up in modest post-war circumstances and didn't care much about money, property or financial success. Young people were politicised. There was hope for a new and different world, filled with love and mutual understanding, which in retrospect might appear idealistic and naïve. Yet, there is perhaps something to be learned if we reflect on this period and compare it to the staunchly individualistic, cutthroat, competitive era of today, where we are all 'atomised'. It is no coincidence that many people who have memories of this era mostly prefer the naïve idealism of then to the heartless cynicism of today.
The exhibition Summer of Love drew 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. Actually, love is one of the most potent and complex forces of human life. Perhaps the most interesting recent ideas advocating a different understanding of love come from literary theorist and political philosopher Michael Hardt (b. 1960) who advocates a political idea of love. Hardt argues that love has to be expanded beyond the limits of the couple, the nuclear family and the psychoanalytic limits of coupling as a force that also contributes to the constitution of community. He credits love for the 'collective transformation' that one experiences in certain kinds of political action. Hardt advocates a form of love that does not originate in a love based on identification with someone or something that is the same as you/us, but a love 'that functions through the play of differences, rather than the insistence on the same'. Criticising the idea of love as a 'merging into one', Hardt advocates love 'as a proliferation of differences, not the destruction of differences. Not merging into unity, but a constructing of constellations among differences, among social differences'. As he wrote together with Antonio Negri, in the book Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire: 'People today seem unable to understand love as a political concept, but a concept of love is just what we need to grasp the constituent power of the multitude. The modern concept of love is almost exclusively limited to the bourgeois couple and the claustrophobic confines of the nuclear family. Love has become a strictly private affair. We need a more generous and more unrestrained conception of love'.
Following on these thoughts, one could argue 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. On the other hand, there are also skewed notions of love, 'love gone wrong', as Hardt says, which are manifested in extremist political groups or parties of nationalist and alt-right leanings. One could conceive of politics differently if one imagined love as a more generous, open, inclusive and positive political concept, as Hardt does.
The exhibition Summer of Love drew on these ideas and wove a web of cultural and historic reference points in order to link the ideas of fifty years ago to the present European crisis, and perhaps to also inspire us to imagine a way out of the current political impasse. It is an opportune moment to do this. 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? In a world that rapidly seems to regress back to conservative values, it is time to learn from history to avoid making the same mistakes again.
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 reminded 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.
All photos by Giorgos Moraitis.