Subculture: What next?

The ICA’s Offsite ‘A Journey through London Subculture: 1980s to now’ finished last week. While subcultures fascinate me immensely, unfortunately, due to tedious geographical reasons, I was not able to see it.

However, this video provides some consolation, offering an insight into the thought process and making of the exhibition. I love the idea of the Beuysian vitrine, or ‘time capsule’ as one of the speakers refers to it as, to display a miscellany of provocative objects from a given person’s life. In placing the random objects in a glass case, these everyday bits and pieces, personal bric-a-brac – a yellowed page from a notebook, a curly wig, an old drawing, a stubby lipstick, a teenage diary, hazy photographs – are venerated to museum-worthy artefacts intended for careful observation and consideration. This veritable act of transubstantiation transforms the mundane remnants of one’s existence into divine auratic objects; these bits and bobs become historical ruins telling stories of high cultural importance.

where were you 2

Similarly, subcultures in themselves are important for the way in which they can articulate so much about society through seemingly insubstantial mechanisms, such as the clothes one wears and the music one listens to. The concept of subculture is perhaps especially interesting to observe now in the internet age. Do subcultures, such as those of yesteryear, exist in the same way, or even at all? The internet has changed youth (and by that, sub) culture irrevocably. Underground ideas don’t stay underground for very long for one thing, and as one commentator in the above video states, ‘Interesting ideas become fads very quickly [due to the internet]’ and are subsequently ‘chewed up and spit out by the media’.  In the latter part of the twentieth and early twenty-first century, youth culture has tended toward the apolitical (see: the much maligned ‘hipster’ culture of recent history), style over substance, so to speak, as opposed to the traditionally radical premises of its mid twentieth century counterparts.

Recently, however, what with recession, rising rates of unemployment and increased interest in feminism (largely thanks to the internet), there seems to be a renewed engagement with politics among young people. This, in turn, brings about a certain refusal among pockets of youth to conform to the conventions and expectations of conservative/affluent/bourgeois society resulting in transgressive ideas. While, I hazard a guess that subcultures can no longer form and flourish in the ways they once did, again largely due to the internet, that is not to say, that subcultures cannot exist in any way at all. For example, the emergence of radical zines (springing from the proliferation of cutting-edge Tumblrs) is just one way in which the youth of today are grouping together in order to challenge the norm . And of course, while the internet has changed the traditional creation of subculture, it is also through the internet how subcultures are most likely to exist today.

where were you

On a final note, The Little Museum of Dublin is exhibiting a collection of personal photographs of Dublin’s youth culture from the 1950s to the 1990s. The exhibition follows the publication of Garry O’ Neill’s acclaimed book, Where were you?, in 2011 and provides an exciting ethnographic study of the lives of Dublin’s teenagers across five decades. The exhibition runs until January 5.  See this video about the exhibition from The Irish Times here.

Edit: This video here on late 80s Dublin gothic streetstyle is amazing.

Images via Where Were You’s Facebook page. 


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