Is Psychedelia ‘The New Black’?

Arts — POSTED BY shrimp on January 12, 2010 at 9:50 am

Strolling down Kensington High Street last week, for a brief moment I could have sworn I was in San Francisco, circa 1973.

By Candida Balfour for The Evening Standard.

The windows of American Apparel heaved with neon T-shirts and trippy prints, while Empire of the Sun’s heady synth came floating out from trend mecca Urban Outfitters.

It seems that something psychedelic is sweeping popular culture right now, with art, music and fashion symbiotically harking back to an era when flower power was not just about pretty patterns but the gateway to a world beyond conflict, recession and material worries; a world where community and ideals can take root.

decodeOver at the Victoria and Albert Museum, its new exhibition, Decode: Digital Design Sensations, explores recent developments in digital art in a visually psychedelic way.

Beyond the explosion of colours and cosmic patterns, the focus is very much on the role of the audience, examining the influence of interactivity within the realm of art.

Blurring the boundary between subject and object, the show invites the viewer to contribute to ever-evolving installations.

Co-curator Shane Walter says: “Many of these pieces do not have a fixed point and are continually developing so that every time you revisit the exhibition it will be a completely new experience.”

The psychedelic revival is not only confined to the world of visual art. The 2010 spring/summer ready-to-wear shows were testament to the world’s current obsession with trippy prints, with designers such as Mary Katrantzou and Peter Pilotto embracing bright, mind-boggling patterns.

Doyen of geometric designs Alexander McQueen took the digital trend to a new level with cosmic prints and alien-inspired shoes.

Louise_ArmstrupJust looking at the dresses is tantamount to getting high, with clashing shades and fluorescent shapes turning the human form into some kind of intergalactic animal.

Sharp lines and fearsome shoulder pads have given way to a world of fantasy beyond our own – a colourful land of infinite possibility.

“Alexander McQueen’s much talked-about show was inspired by his apocalyptic ecological forecast.

“It was dramatised by digitally produced reptilian prints to psychedelic effects,” says Victoria Meekings, spokeswoman for the fashion department at Harvey Nichols.

“All these rainbow-brights are a much-needed jumpstart to both the New Year and our wardrobes.”

The high street, too, is brimming with optimistic tie-dye, stellar prints and illusory graphics.

All Saints’ fearlessly psychedelic T-shirts, with sacrificial images and hippie slogans such as “love is the law”, are being snapped up by every trendy teenager. Suddenly, flower power is cool again; it’s not so nerdy to care about a higher cause.

Nothing explores this better than the billion-dollar blockbuster Avatar, with its day-glo plants and surreal blue-skinned 10ft characters.

Telling the tale of a greedy corporation hellbent on mining a defenceless planet, the film has all the ultraviolet glory of a psy-trance rave in Goa but with a vital message.

Planetary consciousness has never been so important: we must respect the land we live off and our place within a system much larger than ourselves.

The-Catepillar-in-Tim-Burton-s-Alice-In-Wonderland-alice-in-wonderland-2009-8993179-550-401Tim Burton‘s Alice in Wonderland, to be released this March, explores a different psychedelic tenet: things are not always as they seem, and an altered perspective could be the key to future success.

Metamorphosis and re-evaluation help Alice to discover how she can save Wonderland from the fearful Red Queen; powerful potions and mysterious mushrooms are the building blocks for happiness.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the music scene is also undergoing a psychedelic revival.

This time it’s not in the form of acid house but nostalgic synth and euphoric melodies from New York‘s MGMT and the Australian pop duo Empire of the Sun. They evoke a world of childish freedom, brimming with colourful face paint and outlandish costumes.

Empire of the SunThe Australian duo are very clear about their goal: “We want to be free, we want to have a good time, we want to change the world.”

Not, they point out, by making people commit suicide on some special night wearing Nike trainers but by bringing the people “good things”. Underneath their carefree trippy exterior these bands are deadly serious about the need for positive transformation.

“Psychedelic influences originated with The Beatles on Sgt Pepper, and also The Stones circa Their Satanic Majesties,” says Paul Rees, editor of Q magazine.

“Before MGMT or Empire of the Sun there were The Flaming Lips or Mercury Rev. Kasabian’s current album is riddled with psychedelic influences and there are whole swathes of US alternative music rooted in it. In short, it appears ageless.”

So, this return to psychedelia is no quick flirtation with Sixties and Seventies fashion.

This is about communal dissatisfaction with the status quo, with (dare I even say it) global recession, with wasted dreams, jobless graduates and innocent men laying down their lives on the front line.

What the psychedelic fascination offers is not just escape but a fresh perspective, a glimpse into a world beyond our daily routine.

Whether you jump right down the rabbit hole or simply dare lose yourself for a moment in your iTunes visualiser, there has never been a better time to turn on, tune in and drop out.

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