This blog post summarises my assembly presentation to Senior Boys, itself supported by a Bb-8 and my wife’s light sabre. The Prezi used here –
In 1969, when David Bowie released his original versions of ‘Space Oddity’, the first Apollo landings of man on the moon took place.
Aged 15, I was inspired by both the science and the music happenings in ways that mark me to this day. Many of the teachers I work with are too young to have been alive when we had the scientific capacity to place men on another planet, let alone the children in my school, whose experience of space excitement is limited to the European Space Station and a virtual reality. The science of interplanetary travel was beyond our comprehension until it actually happened.
What Bowie did was break my understanding of both artistic and human conventions in like manner. Educated in a boarding catholic community of Benedictine Monks for 4 years aged 13 to 18, I had no real understanding of adult choice and regard for others. Bowie’s development of his Glam rock style, the use of clothing, hair colour, make-up and sexual androgeny intoxicated me initially, and then on entry to University, assisted with my self-identification as Liberal democrat and understanding of adult choice with regard to sexuality. Winning election to the student council at Leicester University, working as a student journalist, charity activist and editor of the Rag Mag ‘Lucifer’ brought me directly into contact with the Gay, Lesbian and Bi community, into direct opposition with the National Front and their racist views, in support of the large Asian community in the city I had chosen to study. Such awakening brought my first real understanding that without immigrant labour, Leicester’s position as Europe’s richest manufacturing city could not have been achieved and maintained.
And this personal growth happened alongside Bowie’s transition in Ziggy Stardust, his blossoming as a world cult, and of course, his deliberate and brave choice to kill Ziggy at his Zenith. That death mask
of glam rock face slashed by Union Jack creates a striking image of hope, no semblance of fear in our minds; whatever a brit wishes to be, s/he can be.
All through this time, technology marched on. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) heralded the arrival of serious space effects on the big screen and the 1970s became further enriched with computer based special effects and in 1977, shortly after the start of my professional teaching career, Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo and Princess Leia captured the imagination in more than technicolour. My personal journey with computing started when ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ with the ZX80 and 81, hardly machines to capture the imagination of the 21st century child, but at the time provided the first ‘domestic’ way for someone like myself into ‘virtual’ science that inhabits the discipline of computing.
Let’s snap forward to December and January 2015/16. Banksy captures an almost perfect image of Man’s possibilities and inhumanity, when he paints Steve Jobs as Computer Pioneer and Syrian Refugee on a concrete by-pass wall in ‘the Jungle’ in Calais. His bravery as artist to create social commentary, to inspire locally and shame internationally, is unique. For refugees close to the mural, the painting reminds them that from refugee status can come the greatest riches in a single lifetime. For the world, it makes clear that the richest companies are often created by outsiders who have surmounted our prejudice but have repaid the risk multifold times.
Banksy’s celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, conjoining Ziggy’s slash with EII’s face is a striking celebration and affirmation of the legend the monarch has become to us all in his/our lifetime. And what better to match that image against, than the broadcast given at the break of the year by our very own starman, Tim Peake. The British astronaut’s reply to the Queen’s Christmas message is short and sweet, and missed by most of us – please watch that minute of pure patriotism here:
When art forms simply cannot be conceived until they are seen and heard, those that have created such remarkable artifacts deserve all the praise and rewards due them. That’s as true of Job’s remarkable iPhone in terms of form and function as Bowie and Banks music and stencils.
The synthesis of all that is magic, remarkable and of the known world yet set apart from our planet is the European Space Station on which Astronaut Peake hurtles around our world as I write. Overlooking our planet, he can see the beauty and oneness of the home of human kind, and both its power and its vulnerability.
What better to finish this blog off with than the work of Peake’s fellow astronaut, Commander Chris Hadfield, his personal rewrite of David Bowie’s Space Oddity set in the context of his experience on board that same ESA in 2013. The images of our world flashing by, in daylight and night, remind us powerfully of the incredible results that partnership and collaboration between old enemies USA and USSR can bring. And why not all the other deadly foes in the long term being able to live in such an inspiring way too?
That’s where the bravery of Bowie can take us, and where the fearlessness of Banksy challenges us. If not us, who? If not now, when?