“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.
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.
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.