Presented over two sold-out nights at the ICA, A Rock 'N' Roll Suicide further explored Iain and Jane's fascination with artifice as a catalyst. A project over eighteen months in the making, this event is, without a doubt, Iain and Jane's largest and most significant live art event to date. Exactly 25 years to the day since David Bowie's legendary 'farewell' performance as Ziggy Stardust, Iain and Jane staged A Rock 'N' Roll Suicide re-creating the entire show - in microscopic detail.
After auditioning dozens of Ziggy wannabes, Iain and Jane elected to work with Steve Harvey, a painter and musician who would go on to deliver two exceptional performances at the ICA. Adding a band of outstanding musicians to perform as The Spiders From Mars, including Young Jazz Musician of the Year, Tom Cawley, rehearsals began on perfecting an exact, move for move, replica of the original performance.
Simultaneously, contact was made with Natasha Korniloff, a costume maker with first hand experience of working with David Bowie, who was commissioned to replicate the seven elaborate costumes worn by Ziggy Stardust in the original performance at Hammersmith Odeon. Utilising the, at times, patchy documentary of the original show made by D.A. Pennebaker as well as several bootleg recordings and sourcing first-hand accounts and recollections, Iain and Jane undertook piecing together everything that had taken place in 1973.
Reflecting the contemporary fixation with virtual and simulated realities, the event was a timely critique of how stardom, authenticity and nostalgia can operate in contemporary culture. Combining an absolute fragility with a magical unpredictability A Rock 'N' Roll Suicide provided a space and invitation for genuine audience interaction.
Iain and Jane produced 1,000 silver, black and white fold-out programmes to give away to all who came to the live events. The programme proclaimed to the audience:
"From 8pm we're all working together with Ziggy Stardust"
Iain and Jane also invited self-confessed Ziggy enthusiasts to contribute a text to the programme, including Alan McGee, Wayne Hemmingway, Angie Bowie, Momus and Mark Paytress. Momus wrote a contribution titled 'Carrot and Stick':
" It's the early '70's. I've been sent to boarding school in Scotland while the rest of my family are living in Greece. I'm miserable there. Life seems very grey; low clouds, uniforms, rugby and algebra.
Since I'm considered responsible (I cry a lot and carry a copy of 'The Wasteland' in my pocket) I'm given the right to use the Senior Common Room, a tiny room at the top of the builing which boasts a couple of chess sets, a few Kipling novels and a mono record player.
Mark Hughes, a Brandonesque boy from the A stream, has a sister who's a Bowie fan, so he has all the albums. The new one has a weird Brechtian title: "The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars". It's bleaker than the rest, bleaker even than "All The Madmen" off "The Man Who Sold The World".
Day after day they take some
Stuck in this grim institution where they beat you for talking out of turn, that clicks.
To tease me, Hughes keeps singing that line "So where were the Spiders / When the fly tried to break our balls?" I can't believe they've got the balls to play it on Radio 1. Bowie's voice is like nothing I've ever heard; high, metallic, alien, appriensive.
My nickname is Groovy, but they're soon calling me Poof. I just smile, because I'm having an affair with an oriental boy. We swing on ropes over the Water of Leith and kiss a bit. We speculate on whether Lou Reed or Mickey Finn from T. Rex are like us. We know that Bowie 'swings both ways'.
It's just all in the air. Even the boys who call us poofs are jerking each other off in the dorms at night, pretending it's a demonstration of what they get up to with their girlfriends back home in Africa in the holidays.
I get expelled from the Senior Common Room when the housemaster catches me hiding in the music rooms, skipping tea to listen to "Drive In Saturday" on my transistor. Apparently I'm not so responsible after all. The rarefied privileges of the Senior Common Room have corrupted me.
My education has indeed gone very wrong: something I passed upon the stair has undone a decade of brutal socialisation backed with the lash.
The carrot-haired Ziggy wins over the stick. Instead of setting into chartered accountancy I become a singer."
The ICA's Vivienne Gaskin, who Iain and Jane worked very closely with throughout the project, penned the programe's introduction 'Bowie-ing Out':
When Iain, Jane and I sat down and discussed A Rock 'N' Roll Suicide a year ago, I don't think any of us knew just what we had let ourselves in for. To present the fake was one thing, to re-present the original fake was quite another.
The legacy of Ziggy, as many contributors in this programme discuss, lies most explicitly in sexual politics, expressive freedoms and theatrical possibilities. Contributions from the fields of music, fashion and design cite the creation of Ziggy among the boldest and most intricate of artistic statements. The lineage excludes the benign, the limited and the tiered, it can only exist in a time when a collective will initiates excesses in their most beautiful guises. During the evolution of this project I have become more convinced that there is no more accurate time than now. The dearth of cultural heroes, creators and imaginative manipulators calls out for the originator, to once more believe in the unbelievable. Ziggy bore himself, defined himself, faked himself and killed himself in a surge of creative excess. Nothing related to a reality anyone knew, yet generations then and now bought in unconditionally to a way of life that can only be played out in full on stage.
These two artists (Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard) were born the year that Ziggy died. Their work expands beyond simply re-enacting the time, sound and the aesthetic of historic pop moments. Through pedantic fanaticism expounded through every detail of the performance they instill the emotion that sets the night alive. Their critique is less about the past than of the present, re-bridging the gaps which bring a current generation into sharp focus.
Without the drive and vision of Iain & Jane, the studied commitment of Steve and the band, and the skill and wisdom of Natasha, this project would not have been realisable. I can only thank them all on behalf of the ICA for their neurosis'.
Vivienne Gaskin, ICA Live Arts
A Rock 'N' Roll Suicide
2 and 3 July 1998
The show on Friday 3 July was broadcast live on the web at www.newmdiacentre.com/ziggy/ - this was the ICA's first live webcast and was accessed by over 3,000 remote viewers.