A ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SUICIDE
LIVE PERFORMANCE. 2 HOURS (1998)
After eighteen months preparation, A Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide was presented over two sold-out nights at the ICA on 2 and 3 July 1998. Further exploring Forsyth & Pollard’s fascination with artifice as a catalyst, exactly 25 years to the day since David Bowie’s legendary ‘farewell’ performance as Ziggy Stardust, the artists re-created the entire show – in microscopic detail. 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.
The artists cast Steve Harvey in the role of Ziggy Stardust, after several weeks of auditions. Adding a band of highly talented musicians to perform as Bowie’s backing band 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. The seven elaborate costumes featured in the show were recreated by Natasha Kornilof, who had performed with Bowie in Lindsay Kemp’s mime troupe and produced stage costumes for him at various stages of his career. Utilising the documentary filmed by D.A. Pennebaker as well as a handful of bootleg recordings and several first-hand accounts, Forsyth & Pollard undertook piecing together everything that had taken place in 1973.
A programme, given to everyone attending the performance, contained a short preface by Vivienne Gaskin, Director of Live Art at the ICA. She wrote:
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.
Experimenting with technology available via the newly created ICA New Media Centre, the performance was broadcast live on the internet. This was the ICA’s first ever live webcast, and was accessed by over 3,000 remote viewers.