Thursday, September 10, 2015


When I heard there was going to be a Bowie exhibit in the UK I never imagined it would travel to Australia but as soon as this was the case I knew I'd plan my next Melbourne trip around it.

When I was in Melbourne last year I joined ACMI to get a free ticket and discounts for anyone who would come with me. And so after all this time my friend C and I headed to the ACMI on a cool, drizzly but typical Melbourne day.

My first real experience with Bowie was watching Ashes to Ashes on Countdown and being very much drawn to the eerie filmclip. Drawn, but scared in equal parts, I've never been a fan of clowns yet I couldn't stop watching. I was 9. I'm sure I had heard his songs prior to that and after but it wasn't until 1983 that I really became a fan. 

The first vinyl record I bought with my own money was Let's Dance, I was 12 and I remember the day so clearly. Walking down to K-Mart to the record section and coming home with it in a special sleeve, it went on my little record player and didn't come off for ages. I know now it is not considered beloved by 'true' Bowie fans, but it will always have a special place in my heart plus how can you not dance to Modern Love and Let's Dance. In fact, it was that fabulous Australian filmclip, that gave me my love of red shoes. I got my first pair a year or so later and have always owned at least one pair since! So whilst I don't get fanatical about him - I really don't get fanatical about anyone - I am a huge fan.

So the exhibit!

I was beyond excited going in but you know, tried to remain Melbourne cool.

Like all exhibits at the ACMI, you walked down two large flights of stairs and we were confronted by this fabulous image! And not just the image, but the actual outfit!

Now you couldn't take photos inside, so these are photos of postcards I bought! I usually do try sneaky shots, but it was near impossible here.

We were given headphones, I took them reluctantly, I have always preferred to let my own thoughts do the talking at exhibitions, but this I was soon to find out an exception to my rule. The headphones were digital and had great commentary about the exhibition from Bowie, others, and had songs playing, and old audio. As you moved from one piece to another the digital audio cut in, it was very clever and incredibly hi-tech, you could move back and forth and it would change within seconds.

The first part of the collection was his childhood, influences, what was happening in the 60s and would have been on his radar, and early clips of him as David Jones. There was some fabulous memorabilia, clips, and sounds including David being interviewed on tele for The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-haired Men at 17.

The whole exhibit was chronological and so beautifully curated, I walked slowly through it. You do explore the exhibit in a solitary way with your headphones on, everyone in their own little Bowie headspace. You simply forgot others were around and got completely lost in Bowie. Occasionally I would step out of my little Bowie World and watch others, sometimes someone caught my eye or I just need to take a breathe. It was almost like being on Mars, and everyone was the Spaceman walking around in their Bowie like trance. It was a truly remarkable experience. 

At times I was singing, or dancing, you just couldn't help it, some others were the same, you exchanged wry smiles with them. But I was really surprised at how many simply did not interact in that way, I couldn't not jig along. It was an overwhelming thing to behold, so maybe they were in shock!

I'm just going to pick some of the key things I loved now. Well, I loved it all, but the things I loved the best or moved me, or I didn't know about!

Throughout the exhibition were pieces of his writing, mostly lyrics, some with crossed out words, some perfectly formed. I loved that his writing changed as much over the years as his image. These were lovely insights into his thought processes and a delight to see.

Starman Video - this is the great one with Mick Ronson on Top of The Pops, I have always loved this video and Starman is my favourite Bowie song. It was on a gigantic screen and I was transfixed, watching it 3 times in a row.

The Man Who Sold The World, live on SNL with Klaus Nomi, 1979: film clip and costume. I had never seen this particular clip before and was mesmerised, mostly due to the costume and the fact he couldn't move in it so it gave off a highly surreal vibe. I watched this a few times too, but it was in a small corner and a crowd had formed so I had to move on. Unsurprisingly I couldn't locate the clip, but here is the exhibition curator talking about it and some footage.

Ashes to Ashes costume - when I got to this piece I audibly gasped, seeing the thing that caught my imagination at age 9 for real was all too much. I had taken in so much at this stage (and unbeknown to me, was not even halfway there) the tears started to flow. As much as I am not a fan of clowns, this costume was like a portal back to my childhood, and it is a gorgeous piece of costume. The clip played on a tele beside it, the audio played in the headphone. I stood there staring at in, tears streaming down my face. I can be such an embarrassing being sometimes!

All the costumes and all the filmclips were fabulous, I was particularly drawn to the Life on Mars clip, such an iconic one with Ronson never sounding better and Rick Wakeman on piano, and Bowie looking fragile yet sounding strong. It's a great song with a great clip. That beautiful pale blue suit also on show.

A little thing caught my attention and made me laugh, a tissue with lipstick on it, in a perspex box. Bowie's of course!

I also loved watching a video of Bowie talking about The Verbasizer, a computer program he worked on that basically is a random word generator to assist with putting together lyrics for songs.

And this is the thing, he is such an innovative and creative persona, it's not only his image that has changed over the years, but what he does and how he does it. He really has never lost his edge.

As the exhibit progressed through the years, there were many things to watch, listen to, and look at. There was a screening room with clips from many of his film performances. Most of them highly amusing to watch. There was also a selection of his paintings, including my favourite, Head of J. O. (Iggy).

Then you came to a door and had to hand in your headphone, the end?


There was more, a room of live music from concerts over the years, projected on the walls of this new large area. And concert costumes, many of them. There was room to sit and watch, take it all in, many looked emotionally worn out. I know I was. I also got a bit emotional...again. We sat for a time and then it was time to move on. Through a long corridor with images of those Bowie has influenced over the years.

And up the escalator we went, a little shell shocked and quite overwhelmed...but in the best possible way. We walked out of the ACMI in a bit of a daze, it was cold and raining yet bright. We had been in there about three hours. It was a truly unique and remarkable experience. We found a warm spot in the hotel at Federation Square, ordered food and drinks and were quiet for some time. Still thinking about our experience, it took a while to actually talk about it. It sounds weird, but anyone who has been will know what I mean.

With the exhibition ACMI are really hitting it out of the park. So many other events supporting the exhibition, I will write about some of them soon.

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