The Psychedelic Museum: Celebrating the Summers of Love at Breaking Convention

Rather like the psychedelic experience itself, Breaking Convention (BC) is a whirlwind of stimulating new ideas, interconnections and ramifying insights, a place to have preconceptions challenged, and a place to celebrate. This biennial, always sell-out conference on psychedelic research and experience, is a wondrous melting pot of influences. In this, its 4th year, it attracted over 1,000 people, bringing together over 140 speakers, artists, workshop facilitators, leading scientists, medics, shaman, scholars and many others at The University of Greenwich, London for three magical days. At BC one can walk into a lecture theater and be dazzled by a fine-grain, bang-up-to-date download on the neurochemical intricacies of psychedelic pharmacology. Then, just a few presentations later, you can be admiring a generous, well articulated Big Picture of the meaning of the psychedelic experience with Dennis McKenna. Having kindly agreed to be the Patron of the Psychedelic Museum it was also a honour to be able to welcome him, along with psychedelic explorer and ‘hack’ (his words, though ‘award winning journalist’ could equally be used) Don Lattin to our pop-up installation at BC.

den and don

The objects on show in the museum included loans from many generous collectors. We were pleased to show a mandrake from the Richel collection on loan from The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic as well as various items of paraphernalia from contemporary entheogenic practitioners. There were the wonderful things from the First Summer of Love loaned by collectors including John Power and Liz Elliott. These included a drum skin owned and decorated by Brian Barritt, through to rare vinyl albums, posters, books and private photographs. A few items, such as the wonderful Captain Gas calling cards of Andy Romanoff, pointed to the story of the First Summer of Love in the USA, but much of what was on display for three days (smack bang on the Greenwich Meridian line, down the hill from the Royal Observatory) were things from British psychedelic history. That said; where there are collectors happy to loan objects we can curate a show, so if you know a suitable venue (we’d love to do an exhibition in the North America) please get in touch!

Curation doesn’t just mean putting things in cases and organizing the space. It also means trying to find ways to stimulate curiosity and conversations in the museum. One way we tried to do this was by encouraging people to sit and play a game of Grass on a Syrian rue dyed ‘flying’ carpet. Another was asking visitors add their own comments to the display using butterfly post-it notes. We included various quirky and questioning labels in the gallery, and of course the team manning the space did a great job of engaging with our visitors.

We had an amazing collection of badges from museum director and counter-cultural historian Andy Roberts, and objects loaned by BC executive crew Dave King and Ben ‘E’s are Good’ Sessa. We had original t-shirts designed and worn by the band members of Psychic TV, early experimenters with dance music and altered states during the Second Summer of Love. We had a dreamachine (kindly loaned by Dream State), a high-end state-of-the-art vaporiser courtesy of Storz and Bickel. We had, well, loads of cool stuff… check out these pictures…

Both within the conference building and outside, chatting with my fellow delegates on the lawn, I definitely got a chance to Feed my Head. Some scintillating conversations, the chance to meet old friends and make new ones. A sense of a community and sense of purpose in that all of us, in different and I hope complementary ways, want to communicate the value of the psychedelic experience. Breaking Convention does this really well. By providing a platform for quality presentations, art, workshops and more it embraces an ethic of accessibility and diversity which I admire. Sure there are things yet to come, conventions to break, things to do better. But this, for me is a conference with a heart, a smile and an intelligence that I’m proud to be a part of.

Over the next few months the various presentations made at BC will be uploaded. (All that is bar the few where the magical fluence was too powerful and the data was scrambled!)

I was also really pleased to have an opportunity to talk at BC with Jaïs Frédéric Elalouf from The Psychedelic Museum in Paris. If you’ve not already done so please like their Facebook page and check out their website. The Psychedelic Museum in France has a wonderful and diverse collection of psychedelic art (at BC Jaïs shared with me his definition of psychedelic art, which is brilliantly considered, some info here) their new show is going to be great, if you can get along to it, and/or spread the word please do.

summer of love

Thanks again for those who supported the (British) Psychedelic Museum crowdfunder and who donated cash when they visited us at BC. Donations are of course still very much appreciated, especially as we intend to do another show as soon as possible in Britain. Please also get in touch if you have items in your collection you’d be happy to share (or ideas for venues, sources of funding etc).

My deepest respect and gratitude to all the Directors and Volunteers without whom the Breaking Convention exhibition (the biggest for the (British) Psychedelic Museum project thus far) would not have been possible. Thanks to the BC delegates who visited the museum, and for the great feedback we received during and after the show.