While idling in London, as you do, I decided to catch the much ballyhooed “David Bowie is” exhibit at the V&A. I knew a few people who’d gone and perhaps more importantly, I knew a few people who wouldn’t have the opportunity to go, so I wanted to share the wealth, so to speak. I headed over to the museum before opening, dawdling with the magpies in Hyde Park a while, snapping random photos and still managed to be early — but not early enough. I guess I ought to have realised it was still a hot ticket. Woof!
Two queues later (I took photos of my progress and shared them on Twitter, thanks to the free wifi), I had the ticket in my hot little hands. I duly promised not to sketch, but it amused me to think of him (or his people) demanding that no one be allowed to sketch anything in the show — heaven forfend that someone steal inspiration from it! Because that’s what proved most fascinating to me: how Bowie got ideas.
This is the thing: you need to feed your head if you want to create. Often people fill their heads with direct models: sketching the masters, devouring the volumes written by those you would like to emulate. But what I quickly saw was that Bowie is one of those people who just feed their heads with everything.
You never know what might prove useful. Bowie studied music and art and theatre and fashion — even mime and dance with Lindsay Kemp (as did Kate Bush). So when he wanted to look like an alien, he chose fashions by Yamamoto, and when he wanted an ethereal decadent Dresden cabaret vibe he took a page from Klaus Nomi. His stage shows are not just visual spectacles, but true performances with a narrative arc — and that’s what takes the best of them beyond simple visual dazzle to co-creation with his audience.
That’s what gives it a life of its own.
I enjoyed seeing the memorabilia and programs and such, but I was a lot more fascinated with the bits that revealed his process. Most artists are fascinated to see how others do what they do; there’s not one way, but I think we always hope that we’ll find that one magical key we didn’t know about that will unlock treasures previously hidden in our heads.
So while most of the audience settled in the room full of screens of performances, I sat for a long while in the room where the books, artists, fashions and music hung that inspired Bowie: everyone from Marlene Dietrich to JG Ballard. I loved how the headsets provided a location specific soundtrack, drifting from music to spoken word to sound depending upon where you stood. It was more like what’s in my head anyway.
Feed your head indiscriminately: be playful with what you find there.
I found it amusing that the “David Bowie is” theme continued into the shop, including the pencils with “David Bowie is existing in other people’s words” and the eraser that declared “David Bowie is correcting mistakes” and I couldn’t resist the badge that says, “David Bowie is making us all voyeurs.” Of course around the corner from the exhibit was the best ploy of all: