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confession #000054

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Wednesday, 29 May 2013

confession #000054

... or, david bowie is in my head

if you've been following closely enough, you'll know that last week i went for a quick break to london. initially, the aim was to go catch up with some close friends and visit the roy lichtenstein retrospective at the tate modern.  as an afterthought, i figured i should try my luck with visiting the david bowie is exhibition at the victoria and albert museum as well.  tickets online have long been sold out for this so i didn't know whether i would actually manage to go in.  i'm delighted to report that the stars aligned in my favour.

arriving about half an hour before the museum opened, i found a long line of people queuing with a good 95% of them being there for bowie.  luckily, i managed to get a ticket for an entry at 11h30, allowing me a quick tour of the rest of the museum.

i'll start by stating that i came out of the exhibition about 3 hours after i walked in, heart thumping, face flushed and singing to starman, heroes and life on mars (my top favourites) in my head. it was that much of a mind-blowing experience. it is impossible to go through each and every detail of this insanely phenomenal display, but at least i’ll try to let you in on my personal highlight from this experience. 

first off, as soon as one enters the exhibition area, one is welcomed by one of bowie’s most astounding costumes: the infamous black striped catsuit created by kansai yamamoto for the aladdin sane tour.  the tone for the exhibition is therefore set from the first steps.

visitors are taken through bowie’s days from before he was bowie, all the way accompanied by intriguing statements such as ‘david bowie is not here yet’ or ‘david bowie is watching you.’ the layout is more or less chronological, illustrating not merely how bowie developed, but who and what influenced his development and who or what he influenced in turn. 

half way through the exhibit, i came across marilyn monroe, as depicted by andy warhol (i was super excited here, this being my second ‘close encounter’ with warhol in less than six months).  from what i understood, bowie and warhol only met once and while bowie much admired the latter, they didn’t seem to have taken much of a liking towards each other! (bowie wore warhol’s own wig and clothes to portray him in the film basquiat.  i know i watched this film something like 10 odd years ago.  it’s about time i watch it again). 

one of the things i enjoyed most was seeing the hand-written lyrics of my favourite songs, complete with scribbles, cross-offs and performance notes.  these were mostly accompanied by the final product: the song played on the exhibition earphones or on video.  what came as a bit of a shock was finding out that bowie later developed a ‘verbaliser’ which would scramble topical news and formulate phrases from them.  well, my description of how it works is rather crude and simplistic and at first, my reaction stopped at that crude and simplistic understanding.  i would have loved for his poetic lyrics to be more ‘organic’.  however, soon after i understood how this tool is used as a platform for inspiration.  oftentimes, just one word can trigger an ocean of ideas.

an equally enjoyable element of the exhibition was the display of the various costumes used by bowie whilst embodying his different personae such as ziggy stardust, the thin white duke and the berlin weimar influence.  my personal piece de resistance among these were certainly the ziggy costumes, mostly made in collaboration with yamamoto, as well as the more ‘well dressed punk’ looks created together with the then ‘just out of design college’ alexander mcqueen.  at one point during the soundtrack to the exhibition, playing in my ears, i remember hearing that bowie refused to ever wear ‘just a jeans and t-shirt’ to perform.  
something which was very personal for me was the fact that i was even attending this event.  without wanting to shed a bad light on my parents, david bowie was always presented to me as ‘weird’.  this was possibly because their music likings tended more towards the paul anka, engelbert humperdink and such crooners of the 60s, and bowie’s transgressive appearance was beyond the mod aesthetic they were used to.  i am so glad i always felt the instinctive need to challenge such opinions and create my own in matters of music, art and other humanities.  had i never challenged them, i wouldn’t have had such an exhilarating experience last week. 

what i saw at the exhibition was far from weird.  it was pure, unadulterated genius. the way bowie explored the possibilities music and language provide, both with their respective limits yet myriad combinations; how he went beyond being a singer / musician to become an all-round performing artist; how he his relevance and influence hasn’t waned over the years, is unbelievable. with the impressive stage sets and backdrops conceived by bowie himself, together with the elaborate costume designs, i would go as far as saying that bowie pioneered the type of performances pop artists nowadays are used to putting up.  the only difference is, most of the latter may actually need it to detract from the poor lyrical quality of their performances. but that’s just my humble opinion.  

if you plan on visiting the exhibition (open till 11 august 2013), look out for those little heart-warming instances which you’ll inevitably come across.  without spoiling much of the intrigue, towards the end of the exhibition, you’ll find yourself in an area with multiple big screens playing various performances of heroes.  the area is set up as an open space and i loved looking around me at other faces, listening, tapping their feet to the rhythm, and humming/singing along, in awe of the master.  it almost felt like being treated to a private performance.  

another moment which will certainly go down in my randomly accessed memory, is seeing a toddler ‘dancing’ to starman.  apart from the toddler’s absolute cuteness, i loved how the mother didn’t have any qualms about ‘exposing’ her child to bowie’s music and ziggy alter-ego.  the voice over in my ears spoke of how the particular performance the toddler was dancing to (video below) was considered shocking because of bowie’s appearance and so-called homoerotic moves with his fellow long-haired guitarist mick ronson. 

i could keep writing forever about this exhibition.  honestly, i almost hazard saying that this was the highlight of my trip to london (not counting quality time with my besties).  everything about the exhibition was well worth the hour or so of queuing, half of which time in the rain (surprise surprise).  i would have loved to take photos of the exhibits, to retain my personal outlook of them, but alas this was not allowed.  neither was sketching - but luckily i have a bit of a eidetic memory for these things and despite being lightly hungover the day after, i woke up drawing my favourite of the bowie getups! i do hope the v&a don’t condemn me for this ... i wasn’t sketching on site after all! 

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