The V&A Museum’s latest exhibition, David Bowie Is , blends fashion, music, art, and technology into an exceptionally immersive gallery experience. The exhibition explores David Bowie from a range of perspectives - as artist, actor, innovator, and especially as collaborator. The museum drew much of its materials and objects from Bowie’s personal archive of over 6000 objects, which includes notes, clothing, letters, photographs and even a lipstick-stained tissue. The exhibition organizes almost 300 items from his collection to weave a series of stories together about the life and work of this singular figure. The artist himself created at least two personas the world has come to know and adore — that of David Bowie (he was born David Jones) and the more eccentric and gender-bending Ziggy Stardust — and the exhibition honors this multiplicity of identities. The space draws visitors into areas or sections, each one exploring a different facet of Bowie’s life and persona; major sections include his upbringing and early foray into music, his early musical influences (Little Richard amongst others), the development and release of Space Oddity, his career in film, his impact on sex and gender politics, and his multiple collaborations with fashion designers and artists over the years.
The exhibition features a mash up of materials and imagery — from projections of music videos, documentary photographs, and clothing to a number of video interviews with Bowie and a range of his collaborators. While photography was not technically allowed in the galleries, security let visitors snap a few shots here and there (as seen above).
From the perspective of an educator, the most interesting and exciting part of the exhibition was the manner in which the audio tour was integrated into the gallery experience. It included interviews, music, and commentary from a range of voices, AND it was location activated -meaning that certain tracks and recordings automatically played when you moved through space. The exhibition was filled with invisible sensors that triggered area specific content as you moved through the galleries. Although there were a few glitches here and there, overall it was a truly multi-sensorial experience. I only had to press play once and my adventure in sound and sight began; two and half hours later I could have done it all again. The audio guide was not supplemental to the show - it was part of a curated experience. Sound, light, and technology were weaved into the experience of images, clothing, and narrative presented in the galleries.
If you’re in London anytime between now and August 11, go see this exhibition. Whether or not you like museums or even David Bowie, I promise you’ll enjoy the multimedia experience the V&A has built for visitors.
Here’s hoping that this exhibition will serve as model for other museums around the globe. Oh, and David Bowie is one interesting chap.
Sheetal Prajapati, Associate Educator, Public Programs