Campus Radicalism

And so on the day that the make or break new firstsite exhibition opened in Sunny Colch, we went up to the University to look at an exhibition all about radicalism.

Totally RAD, dude.

Something Fierce is billed as looking at the ‘Vision and Reality’ of the University of Essex.

This is translated to mean how the lofty academic ideals ended in anarchy.

…and then came full circle once again with the current corporate incarnation that is swallowing up Wivenhoe Park.

It’s a fantastic exhibition.

This is in fact the second staging of the artefacts, so successful was the first opening last year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the University.

We don’t want to build it up too much as Something Fierce finished today.

Whoops.

But it’s back from a third and fourth run from 28 April – 4 May, and then 14 – 18 July.

Staged in the concrete brutalism of the old Hex restaurant, Something Fierce has the perfect backdrop for the themes that are addressed.

The University was built on concrete foundations. These haven’t quite cracked, but they have certainly been tested.

You get the impression that the social engineers of the 1960s that campaigned for a University had this fervent petri dish experiment for radicalism in mind when they built those iconic towers.

Build brutalism, add in academia, see what social unrest you can cause.

The Hex guides you around the first mutterings for a new type of academia to be raised in Wivenhoe Park, through to the architectural drawings, the construction and then the arrival of the first students.

Build it and they will come.

Up the next level of the Hex and here is where the fun really starts.

We get to find out how the students viewed their new brutal environment, and how this then impacted on the radicalism that developed.

A timeline over the past five decades has commentary and original artefacts on show from each period.

And then sometime around the mid 1990s and pfttt.

It all goes flat.

Farewell radicalism, hello careerists.

Which is slightly unfair, but there wasn’t a lot to shout about once New Labour arrived on the political scene.

Which is a bit of an inverted argument in itself (plus note the suspension of ultra-Blairite Lord Triesman from the University in the mid 60’s for… Marxist radicalism).

How we got from theatre block occupations to the bloody Knowledge Gateway is beyond us.

But fair play to the corporate University of Essex in 2015. The Essex Troubles aren’t whitewashed and forgotten about.

They are actually celebrated in the exhibition, albeit with a knowing nod and a wink to what was a very different political and economic environment.

The closest The Chroninc came to any radicalism on campus this weekend was swiping a buffet that had been laid out in the Hex for some visiting VIP party.

Talk about a bun fight , etc.

We’ll be having a look at the make or break new firstsite exhibition soon.

We hope that it captures something of the spirit and history of Colchester in the way that Something Fierce succeeds in doing.

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