From Everyday to Everyman, from Stardust to Space Oddity: The David Bowie is Exhibition at The V&A. By Tamara Cincik.
The Press Opening of the David Bowie is Exhibition at The V&A. The first international retropective of David Bowie’s career.
I think a lot of us hold David Bowie dear to our hearts: like a precious friend who has seen us through so many versions of ourselves. We’ve grown up with him looking back at us across album sleeves and TV performances. Depending on our age, perhaps we were there right from the start: watching his personas shift from cute quiffed boy next door to asexual alien, from rakish matinee idol, to troubadour. There is something somehow both avant-garde, yet comforting; if David can do it, so can we. If he can push himself to change, be creative, let go of success, of characters, identities, in search of new challenges, then so can we. We don’t have to accept anything less from ourselves, we don’t have to settle for second best. We can reinvent ourselves.
When I was starting to style, I was confronted by the fact that the work I was doing, was less than I wanted it to be, than how I dressed myself. I’d been perfectly confident working as a fashion assistant to some amazing fashion editors, but once it was my name on the page, I felt nervous of being brave, or stepping out of line, of creating stories which were as rich as my imagination. All of which was obviously frustrating. One afternoon, I I bought a secondhand copy of ‘Hunkydory’ from Record and Tape Exchange on Camden High Street, where I lived and played it incessently on my record player. The album would catch and I would have to nudge it over the jump, and the sound was both stereo and scratchy in that way that only records can be. One song became my repeat play mantra, ‘Quicksand’ and it was these lyrics which pushed me to be braver, to reveal more of myself in my work, to dare to rise to my potential:
I’m not a prophet
or a stone age man
Just a mortal
with the potential of a superman
I’m living on
I’m tethered to the logic
of Homo Sapien
Can’t take my eyes
from the great salvation
Of bullshit faith
If I don’t explain what you ought to know
You can tell me all about it
On, the next Bardo
I’m sinking in the quicksand
of my thought
And I ain’t got the power anymore
I loved the way this ballad spoke of magic and dreams, of self belief and stripping away the bullshit. That someone from Bromley could work hard, plug away and never give up on his creativity, spurred me on to try to be as good as that song. I wrote a list to inspire myself with my aspirations and top of the page was: ‘To be as good a stylist as Quicksand is a song.’ Whether I have achieved that is open to debate, but what I do know is, I tried. I tried really hard. I let go of the fear. Can you say the same?
I was looking forward to the press opening for weeks, would it live up to my hopes, I had a feeling it would, as The V&A consistently holds well curated exhibitions and to take on the popular culture god that is David Bowie, well you have to be brave and you have to have done your research.
I got a great sense of his collaborations, such as how at an early stage in his career learning dance and mime with Lindsay Kemp informed his performance personas, from Ziggy through to Ashes to Ashes, via a fascinating video of a long haired Bowie visiting Warhol at the Factory and nervously miming opening up his chest to pump his heart to camera.
Similarly the clothes, the collaborations with fashion and set designers to create radical stage personas; these are not simple set builds or indeed costume changes. If I learnt anything, it was how fully engaged he is with all levels of image control, from the mock-ups of album artwork he drew in coloured pen, to cardboard stage sets.
By the end of the exhibition, I actually felt very moved. I really appreciated that this is a man, who like me, perhaps like many of us, has felt like an outsider. Perhaps this is his appeal? The normal boy from the suburbs, quite a shy boy, it seems judging from the interviews at the exhibition, who was drawn to keep trying, plugging away at being a singer, reading avant-garde novels on his way into work at an advertising agency, and for a time, 10 years in fact, nothing much happened. And then when he created his first alter-ego in Ziggy, he was able to act, to manifest a stage identity to launch a messianic Martian: part space Odysseus, part Clockwork Orange anti-hero, somehow it struck a chord, a chord of the alien outsider, the leader from the everyday world made supergod from outerspace.
David Bowie is 23rd March – 11August 2013
By Tamara Cincik.
PS If you read this David, the curators said please could you come to see the exhibition. If you do, I hope you like it. I did x.