Utopian ideals of hippie era illuminated by modern context of a pair of new exhibits at Downtown’s 516 Arts
By Heather Saxton
Exploring community, autonomy and counter culture, UnCommon Ground presents harmonious visions of utopia in a summer program at Albuquerque’s 516 Arts.
Two exhibits form the heart of the new show: Worlds Outside This One highlights innovative artists from around the globe who collaborate to illuminate the legacy of ad-hoc communities, and Across the Great Divide features the photographic memoir of Roberta Price, an early resident of the Libre hippie commune near Gardner, Colo.
Curated by Erin Elder, Worlds Outside This One depicts the collective response of artists from around the world to the traditions of squatting, homesteading, fort building and voluntary seclusion.These contemporary artists reveal their perceptions on such experiments and innovations, manifested in rafts, transportation apparatuses, homes and various other creative developments.
Though disparate cultures are represented in Worlds, common themes of natural living, self-sufficiency and shared ideologies abound. Also exposed is how notions of utopian lifestyles, paired with do-it-yourself convictions, created notable innovations. This exhibition beautifully debunks negative mainstream clichés and media myths about historical counter cultures. The artwork showcased will enlighten and educate viewers to the truths and realities of the hippie era and the legacy of that period in modern times.
Worlds Outside This One will also give guests the opportunity to create hand-hewn spaces and participate in interactive experiences in the gallery. Blueprints, shelters, journals and maps are unveiled for a further elucidating exploration of the possibilities we have as human beings. One such possibility of living disparately was realized by Roberta Price, who chronicles her experience through a photographic memoir in Across the Great Divide. In the late 1960s and ‘70s, in the midst of the back-to-the-land movement, Price was one of the founders of the Libre commune — one of the most successful communes in southeastern Colorado. Not only was she intimately involved in all aspects of daily life during her seven years in Libre, but she also used her camera to document her experiences.
As such, Price’s work — curated for the show by Mary Anne Redding — is now a charming historical account and captivating photographic archive of the new ideas, erratic architecture and flourishing idealistic movements that defined this community: simple and green living, environmentalism, natural childbirth and breastfeeding, solar and alternative energies, organic farming, the slow food movement, gender equality and gay rights, to name a few.
Price’s work captures the aspiration, hope, enthusiasm and utopian ideology that nourished this movement. In a recent Local iQ interview, Price stated, “What struck me about the photos I took 40 years ago is the tremendous amount of energy, work, and young people in their 20s choosing poverty voluntarily — it was motivated by ideals.”
Price said the hippie era is not always fairly portrayed by the mainstream media. “To many in the media, and even academia in the past, that era seems to occupy a historical niche halfway between a pernicious social virus and a Halloween costume,” she said.
“The brilliance of the people at 516 Arts is that they are contextualizing (the hippie era) with contemporary movements,” Price said. “It’s not being treated as an artifact to be examined — it’s people relating that time period to today in Albuquerque, and across the country.”
UnCommon Ground will also feature panel discussions on topics including, “The Construction of the Counterculture: The Role of Women and the Place of Architecture,” and “Seeds for Change,” a discussion of the positive impact of farming as sustenance for mind, body, soul and community. Other related programs include lively comedy, controversial documentaries, outdoor theater performances that encourage audience participation, musical storytelling, interactive workshops, a poetry anthology, staged readings and more.