To coincide with the launch of the acclaimed David Bowie Is exhibition, a retrospective at ACMI, I attended the symposium The Stardom and Celebrity of David Bowie. The two-day multi-disciplinary symposium brought together artists, academics and cultural commentators to reflect upon the influences of and on David Bowie in rock, pop, film, art, fashion and performance.
I was, and am, intrigued by the Bowie persona and his various extensions (Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Thin White Duke); also particularly in how he mastered the art of play.
Upon introducing the persona to the world stage, Bowie was criticised for playfulness and ‘playing’, is of course, deemed immature, frivolous and sometimes taboo. We’re conditioned to scoff, question and judge those who play in their adult life. However, as children, creativity and play are highly encouraged. They’re key for the development of our imagination, dexterity and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. It’s important for healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them. The benefits are endless. So why aren’t we encouraged to play beyond our childhood?
Our toys were projections of ourselves. The personality of each would vary along with their story, gender and sexuality. My dinosaur toy would differ to your dinosaur toy, although being the same dinosaur toy. David Robert Jones played via personas, his most well known persona being David Bowie. Bowie was a projection of Jones, and Ziggy Stardust of Bowie. The story, gender and sexuality of these personas (Bowie, Ziggy and the dinosaur toy) is fluid.
In music, stage personas are employed for various reasons: as a branding exercise, a coping mechanism to deal with a lack of confidence or to ensure detachment from personal life. For David Jones, the change was largely due to the emerging fame of Davy Jones (The Monkees). However, the Bowie persona (along with the Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane personas) allowed him to express and explore the extremes of his identity.
As creatives, we are David Jones. The brands we represent are facets of our identity as we project ourselves onto them. How I speak on behalf of White Pages will differ from how someone else does, even though we may still internalise the brand’s core values and traits. This fresh perspective is often the reason for multiple creative teams to work on a single brand. Side note: Did you know David Jones (Bowie) had a background in advertising? After leaving school at 16, David joined Yorkshire based company Nevin D. Hirst Advertising as a Junior Visualiser/Paste Up Artist.
We’re in the business of play, and imagination is our tool. Like any great tradesman, we need to sharpen our tool. Put your pride to the side and play.