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March 22, 2013

David Bowie, That boy from Brixton

by Val Reynolds

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 10.20.22The new V&A exhibition, David Bowie Is, shows the fantastic imagination and creations of David Bowie spanning five decades.

Exciting, dark and theatrical it is bursting with material, providing an insight into Bowie’s mind through a multitude of collaborations with artists and designers. A spectacular and multi-sensory show bordering on immersive theatre, mirrored and faceted  projection,  sound installations, videos, preparative drawings, sketches, scribbles, lyrics, and models for his staging and costumes.

The sound-scape is rich and experiential, tuning into zones and exhibits, as we move around the exhibition, designed by the company 59 Productions (of the Olympic opening ceremony) and innovative sound technology from Sennheiser.

Bowie’s  clear vision and  hands-on approach, is apparent, influenced by a varied host of artists, culture and politics ranging from Marlene Dietrich, Kabuki Theatre, Lindsay Kemp (from whom he mastered the art of theatrical tension), Kubrick, Kraftwerk, Mao, Jung, German Expressionism and Berlin life.

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 10.24.25At the beginning we read:

“All art is unstable. Its meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author. There is no authoritative voice. There are only multiple readings” signed David Bowie

Indeed – Bowie is a master in borrowing and deriving art-works from everywhere!

Bowie’s collaborators affirm he was a perfectionist, yet easy to work alongside, confident to entrust his team with creative freedom. His costume designers such as Burretti and Yamamoto were delighted to work on an androgynous model such as Bowie  with chiselled features and the ideal tall angular figure to carry avant gard silhouettes and flamboyant suits.

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 10.24.39Kathryn Johnson – young assistant curator reveals she was most encouraged and relieved to discover Bowie had been supported by a range of talented individuals, support and teams rather than producing his projects alone and that his creations were not all the product of one mind. The range of characters Bowie creates, explores and plays out to entertain us is amazing.   Although the exhibition is densely packed with over 300 exhibits, Kathryn says it was hard to whittle down the content from so much available. Bowie supplied most of it, although he had no wish to be involved in the curating.

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 10.23.51BE WHO YOU WANT TO BE !

Of the Bowie movement, many people say “It spoke to me “ –  he gave us the license to be ourselves, be individual, be liberated.  In the context of the 1960s and 70s he challenged gender convention and gave a voice to gay liberation (which had only been legalised 4 or 5 years prior to Bowie’s emergence onto the pop scene)

I believe Howard Burrell compared Bowie’s influence today, to that of Mozart or to Bach in their time – the bad boy popular appeal.

Bowie deliberately remains elusive and mysterious (very Dietrich) with an edginess and perhaps strategic recklessness derived from Iggy Pop.

The new album is already a best-seller –  Bowie at sixty-six in the Sinatra spot … and why not celebrate age?

The exhibition embraces every technology, projection, stills, sound, installation fabric, manuscripts and scraps – small booths and large staged exhibits against black space.

The exhibition is packed with an extensive amount of material, a sensory overload  – there is too much to decipher – but yet something for everyone, be you a fashion student, designer, musician, anthropologist, a fan, or a dreamer.

I defy you not be inspired.

“AND THERE HE IS MESSING WITH OUR MINDS AGAIN  …” but that is the job of the artist – to evoke otherworldly feelings*.

Curators: Victoria Broach and  Geoffrey Marsh

David Bowie Is – at the  Victoria and Albert Museum, London  23rd March – 11th August 2013

Anne Tilby:  Film, tv and theatre production designer and mixed media artist  Clients include Julian Clary, Ken Russell, Spitting Image and Father Ted, opera design for Covent Garden Royal Opera House, Chicago Lyric, Moscow, ENO, Madrid … Trash Factory bubbles alongside other activities and is symbiotic – a social enterprise for creative recycling in the community and schools. Trash Factory needs for other interested eco-centrics – so do contact us via www.trashfactory.co.uk

Photography provided by V&A Museum archive

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