Reactor

Video Artist Tony Oursler Turns David Bowie into a Doll

by Kyle Chayka on January 8, 2013

“Where Are We Now” is the first single from “The Next Day,” David Bowie’s first studio album in 10 years, and the surreal pop star is breaking the silence with something memorable — a music video created by Tony Oursler, an American video and installation artist known for projecting body parts onto suspended spheres. It’s a match made in spacey art heaven.

Tony Oursler, "Caricature" (2002) (Image via magasin3.com)

Tony Oursler, “Caricature” (2002) (image via magasin3.com)

Oursler films what looks like a studio setup, a space crammed with mannequins, giant ear sculptures, and other artistic detritus. On a table sits a double-headed, four-legged, two-armed doll. Each of the doll’s imperfect heads has a face projected on it — Bowie’s and that of a woman who stays silent. The overall effect is Dr. Seuss with a dark side.

The song is a meandering, downbeat love letter to Berlin, where Bowie made some of his most abstract music. His lyrics sketch “a man lost in time” “just walking the dead,” visiting places around the city like Potsdamer Platz (sadly misspelled in the video), a public square decimated during World War II and divided in half by the Berlin Wall, the legendary Dschungel club on Nurnberger Strasse, and Bose Brucke, the site of a West Berlin checkpoint. Each place shows up in camera footage projected in the background, behind the Bowie video-doll.

Bose Brucke, Berlin (Image via popo.uw23 on Flickr)

Bose Brucke, Berlin (image via popo.uw23 on Flickr)

Bowie’s haunting voice spinning out the words “walking the dead” and the imagery of the video suggest that the song is about the past ghosts that haunt Berlin, both memories of the artistic high life and the traces that war and conflict have left on the landscape. Those themes plus David Bowie’s otherworldliness make a fitting match for Oursler, whose work often tackles the sensation of displacement and the bizarre intruding into everyday life.

“The Next Day” will be released on March 12 in the United States. If Bowie’s looking for more video artists to work with, we would totally suggest Ryan Trecartin. Now that would be glam.

  • Subscribe to the Hyperallergic newsletter!

Hyperallergic welcomes comments and a lively discussion, but comments are moderated after being posted. For more details please read our comment policy.
  • Mores

    Tony Oursler is American.

    • http://twitter.com/chaykak Kyle Chayka

      Fixed the mistake, thank you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/keil.borrman Keil Borrman

    Their Collaboration is also not new news. Bowie used Oursler’s statue/videos way back in ’95 during the 1. Outside tour.

    It was either that one or the ’97 tour for Earthlings.
    or
    perhaps both…
    either way there was a pretty memorable moment during one of those tours where Bowie had his foot on one of Oursler’s blobs as it was being brought to life by a projection of Bowie’s face.
    I want to say he was singing “hearts filthy lesson”
    I think there was also some use of oursler beasts in the “I can’t read” wrap-up to the Pay-per-view showing of db’s 50th birthday concert.
    ANYWAY
    I could not be more excited to know there will be another Bowie album.
    Happy birthday Mr. Bowie and thanks for this exciting gift!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Beth-Wilson/27906982 Beth Wilson

    Who is the woman in the video?

  • http://twitter.com/KateRhoades Kate Rhoades

    I did a similar thing with Andrea Fraser http://thekate.8k.com/projects/Fraser.html.

  • feodorj

    Sadly, Dr. Seuss is misspelled in your article. ;)

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      Fixed. Thanks!

  • Tim Anthony

    Just want to say I find it a very powerful video-song combination. This is now another of those songs I will never know what I would have thought of had I heard it first without the video.

    I used to hate Madonna’s song Deeper and Deeper because of the video (I used to get all my music from Much Music in those days), till one day I heard it on the radio, liked it a lot, and took another half minute to realize why it sounded so familiar to me. That song was largely destroyed for me by its video.

Previous post:

Next post: