Forever Stardust – 11 July 2019
Forever Stardust was a tribute to the art and music of David Bowie, celebrating 50 years since the release of ‘Space Oddity’ on 11 July 1969. The night, held in the Sallis Benney Theatre included talk and discussion from Brighton lecturers and guest speakers. From its inception the event was designed to cover the broadest range of media and culture relating to Bowie, his work and legacy. Presentations covered music, journalism, photography, television, literature and graphic novels. The intention was also to deliver an event informed by the collective academic scholarship represented by the School of Media, which was also accessible to the general public.
The evening began with Stephen Bull, Senior Lecturer in Photography, author of Photography and Celebrity, and the editor of A Companion to Photography. The focus of Stephen’s talk was Brian Duffy’s photographs of Bowie for the Aladdin Sane record sleeve. Stephen explored the afterlife of the shoot, which was used as the central promotional photograph for the V&A’s touring exhibition David Bowie Is…in 2013. Stephen explained how and why the image has subsequently become the basis of a painted mural of Bowie in Brixton, which has been transformed into a form of shrine following Bowie’s death. Drawing upon theories of celebrity, photography and indexicality, Stephen drew attention to Duffy’s images of Bowie and their changing meanings over time.
A shift in focus was represented by Paula Hearsum whose research centres on the representation and mediation of popular musician’s deaths in relation to dominant social discourses and narratives. Using Bowie as a case study, Paula explored how legal, professional and ethical rules around writing about death are often broken when discussing popular musicians. Paula was followed by Con Chrisoulis, Brighton alumni, and Lecturer in Commercial Art and Illustration at Teesside University. Con is a multidisciplinary artist who has enjoyed a long career in indie and mainstream comics, currently serialising his weekly online webcomic REBEL REBEL, a graphic novel spanning David Bowie’s entire life. Illustrating his talk with examples of his work, Con spoke of his relationship with David Bowie’s music, and the ways in which his graphic artistry seeks to interpret music and its culture in visual form.
The interval was accompanied, along with a medley of Bowie’s hits, by images from Paul Burgess’ personal collection of David Bowie memorabilia. Paul is a collage-based artist, illustrator and writer, and course leader for the BA Design for Digital Media.
Next up was Joseph Ronan, a lecturer whose research explores narratives of sexuality, adolescence and queer temporalities. A multidisciplinary scholar, Joseph’s work covers contemporary literature and popular culture, processes of adaptation and the relationships between different textual forms. This resulted in a fascinating talk exploring themes of bisexuality and immaturity across different versions of The Buddha of Suburbia. Stephen Mallinder, of the Digital Music & Sound Art programme, followed with a talk about the Bowie’s Berlin triptych, three 1970s albums including Low, “Heroes”and Lodger. Stephen explored the historical, cultural and personal influences impacting on Bowie during this period, and the ways these affected the artist’s creative output.
Our final speaker was Martin James, Professor of Creative and Cultural Industries at Solent University. Martin’s specialist interest include music journalism and memoir, social media and identity, late twentieth-century alternative music, punk, post punk and electronic music. Martin spoke of Bowie’s impact upon his work, how the artist ignited in him a passion for the arts, writing and academia, influenced his MA, PhD and even became the subject of his inaugural professorial lecture.
The evening was rounded off with a half hour set by local David Bowie impersonators Bowiesque. The night was curated by Ewan Kirkland, lead of the Screen Studies Research and Enterprise Group. There are plans for the event to be reprised at the Brighton Festival in 2020.