David Bowie needs no introduction. Neither does one of the year’s most hip and hyped exhibitions in the Northern Hemisphere, that’s still running at the V&A Museum. So popular that people were drawn in from all parts of the world; like this conversation we overheard with a lady from Australia who lives in New York who flew to London just for the exhibition. And to think that it almost didn’t happen!
According to Geoffrey Marsh, Director of Theatre and Performance at the museum and co-curator of David Bowie Is (in this interview to Phaidon), they were actually planning to stage an exhibition about another music star but faced delays due to copyright issues which couldn’t be solved. Good karma took over and, after some toing and froing, an agreement was reached with David Bowie’s archive and voila! the David Bowie Is exhibition that stirred the globe… The almost simultaneous release of his latest album, his come back after 10 years of silence must have helped!
Stepping into the exhibition feels like you walked into wonderland; Bowieland. I couldn’t stop thinking what an enormous treasure dome his archive must be; there are about 300 objects on display and that’s already a lot… imagine the entire archive! Bowieland is a beautiful, weird place dotted with posters and photos, handwritten lyrics and notes, personal instruments and bits and pieces, original costumes and David’s own sketches (he was actually co-designing everything from album covers to stage sets to his costumes), paintings, and of course clips from several live performances and music – a lot of music! And touching little details, like random, personal notes on odd pieces of paper, a tissue David used to wipe his red lipstick, (rather intimate and not photogenic)…
This cloak, on the other hand, decorated with kanji characters, is grandiose; designed in 1973 by Kansai Yamamoto for the Aladdin Sane tour, it translates as ”one who spits out words in a fiery manner” and phonetically means David Bowie:
Or this cobweb bodysuit, designed by Natasha Korniloff in 1973, for one of David’s surreal appearances in ”The 1980 Floor Show” where there was a third hand affixed to the crotch but had been removed after a battle royal with the NBC film crew, who also insisted that he cover up his black jockstrap with gold semi-leggings. The show was broadcast on American TV but never aired in Britain. (Photograph by Mick Rock. Copyright Mick Rock 2013):
Ziggy Stardust, David’s most famous character, did not appear on the cover of the album that bears his name; he was developed on stage during the world tour 1972-1973. Ziggy is an amalgam of samurai warrior and kabuki onnagata – the male actor who played female roles in traditional Japanese theatre. But his stage manner was drawn from German cabaret.
In 1974 he met William Burroughs who, during the early ’60s together with painter and writer Brion Gysin, had developed the cut-up as a method of visual and verbal reassembly that was equally applicable to painting, montage, calligraphy, tape manipulation and written word. It came to be when Gysin sliced through a pile of newspapers, reshuffled the shredded newsprint and was fascinated by the way the chopped pictures and words created a new narrative. This technique would enable Bowie to reform his entire method of writing lyrics and making music.
Brian Eno’s EMS Synthi, purchased in 1974 and used for the recording of ”Heroes” in 1977:
Handwritten lyrics of ”Heroes” – my favourite Bowie song (sorry Major Tom!):
FOREVER AND EVER
I could go on forever about the Bowie World, where making music is just a part of the bigger picture; where performing becomes who you are; where who you are is not what it seems; where through your constantly changing phases you are creating a new culture, a universal language that transcends gender, religion, ethnicity, age, fashion; where, through countless transformations, your rise from being a cult figure to a global mainstream phenomenon…
… but I’ll be a hero and stop here with something he said: I wanted to be a fantastic artist, see the colours, hear the music, and they just wanted me turned down. I had to grow up feeling demoralized and thinking: ‘They are not going to beat me’. I had to retreat into my room; so you get in the room and you carry that ruddy room around with you for the rest of your life.
David Bowie Is…
At the V&A Museum London
until 11 August 2013
London, 24-29 April 2013
to be continued…