Process over product: ACMI presents V&A’s David Bowie Is

AUTHOR:  
Published:  July 21, 2015
Gemma Pass

Unlike many modern celebrities, David Bowie has never told anybody who they should be. Instead, leading by his own example, he has been the man to show us that we can be who ever we want. This is an incredibly important take-away, especially in the wider artistic community, because our ability to approach production in a way that is different, will help us to create something that is new. I know that seems kind of obvious, but habit runs deep; and sometimes we need the reminder to get us out of our comfort zone.
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After an extensive two year global tour, V&A’s highly anticipated David Bowie Is has finally hit Australian shores at Melbourne’s ACMI. It is the first major exhibition to cover Bowie’s long career in music, and the first to have full, unprecedented access to the David Bowie archive. Including not only finished works such as albums, stage costumes and concert footage, the exhibition also includes working notes, sketches and drafts, which provide the viewer with an exceptionally intimate insight into his allusive and multilayered creative practice.

According to the assistant curator of the V&A exhibition, Kathryn Johnson, when Bowie made his incredible archive available to the museum, he chose to give the V&A curatorial freedom and did not directly comment on the exhibition’s direction or development. “I just see what people make of it,” said Bowie in 1972; an approach he applied not only to the exhibition but also to his work as a whole. For the curatorial and design team, this posed a challenge. They had to design the exhibition in a way that would define, convey and celebrate Bowie’s star appeal- but also allow for multiple readings, said Johnson. The exhibition became less and less about an iconic superstar with a definitive story and more about a figure that is constantly being re-invented and re-defined.

“The sense of responsibility was palpable. We were acutely aware that to present Bowie’s multifaceted career from a single angle would distort its real complexity. We wanted visitors to be able to revel in the sense of identification … Rather than attempting to devise another definitive story, therefore, we aimed to capture the existing multiplicity of readings and allow for others to emerge. In an exhibition context this meant avoiding the didactic ‘authoritative voice’ often associated with museum displays. That tone would run contrary to Bowie’s own creative language,”  says Kathryn.

Photo Credit: Mark Gambino

Image by Mark Gambino

Drawing over 850,000 visitors to date, the exhibition has quickly become the V&A’s fastest selling show- and after getting in there and having a squiz for ourselves, it is not hard to see why. Walking through the exhibition, it felt as though you were walking in and out of David Bowie’s world in the form of a Chelsea Girls split screen. Seeing Bowie’s diverse influences and the way he integrated them into his creative process in the form of drawings, drafts and written notes made it clear that the exhibition is more about the creative process and the ‘behind the scenes’ of his work than the finished works themselves. This is important because it serves to remind us that our finished products will only ever be as unique and as far-reaching as our influences and our creative process.

Mark Gambino

Image by Mark Gambino

 

Mark Gambino

Image by Mark Gambino

By integrating Bowie’s own theatrical and creative techniques such as ‘cut-ups’ and collage into the exhibition design as much as possible, Johnson and the V&A curatorial and design team were able to rattle the idea of there being a definitive story and pave the way for the viewer to create their own. Remaining true to Bowie’s wish of wanting to be an instigator of new ideas and perspectives, David Bowie Is, is a simultaneously dream-like and exhilarating experience that explores and celebrates the work and creative practice of an musician who continues to inspire wider movements of music, art, fashion and design, to challenge convention and pursue freedom of expression today.

Mark Gambino

Image by Mark Gambino

Photo Credit: Mark Gambino

Image by Mark Gambino

As part of the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series, the Australasian season of David Bowie Is will be open at ACMI for a limited season.

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See here for tickets and more information. 

 

 

 

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