Revolution in the air

Three years at art college would not be complete without some politics, squatting and clashes with the police. I have no idea whether any era is more or less politically charged than another – these are bigger and further reaching questions than I can answer here – but with hindsight there is no doubt that change and revolution were in the air during my years at college. The Tory government was limping along under John Major, persecuting the rave culture and traveller movement, eastern europe was collapsing, both peacefully and violently, and memories of the Poll Tax riots were still fresh in peoples’ memories. The bitter taste of Margaret Thatcher was still strong in the mouth.

It was in this climate that the art students in Brighton revolted. There was anger, debate and petitioning going on as we argued against the loss of a number of tutors and members of staff. For some reason, amongst all this anger the college decided to announce the building of a completely new and unnecessary car park for thousands and thousands of pounds, completely contradicting their claim that there was no money. Within days the whole art college in the centre of Brighton had been occupied with banners flying from the windows, picket lines and a slowly increasing police presence. It was a fantastic, powerful and electric atmosphere.

The beauty of it all for me was the productivity that came about. The course I was on had its own separate building down the road from the main college, with only one entrance. We were in there for days. Spontaneous dance, theatre and music performances were regular occurrences as were exhibitions, talks and improvised raves, chill outs and jamming sessions.

And in amongst all this I experienced my first all night session in the darkroom. I know many people have done it, but this was my first time and it has stuck with me, clear and vivid. Working in a darkroom can be a lonely experience but my abiding memory of that night is one of being so engrossed and involved in my work that I genuinely had no idea of the time. I would come out every few hours for some air and to stretch my legs, but was back in within a few minutes, until eventually I looked out of the window and saw light. Sun, slowly filling the pale grey sky with warmth and colour. There is very little more beautiful than dawn when you have been up (working) all night. It fills you with relief and joy, and when it is unexpected your emotions are amplified and exaggerated. I was drained but my soul was at peace with myself and my place in the world.

A few days later the revolution came to an abrupt end when the riot police stormed the building and dragged us out. Life resumed and, I’m guessing, somewhere in the corridors of power the authorities prepared themselves for the next batch of angry young students…assuming they were even aware of what had happened.

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