Friday, 26 April 2013

Recurring Images: Stars

Last week I saw FUN. live at the Hammersmith Apollo. I'm a big fan, so I love all the songs, but was particularly moved by their choice to end the show not with We Are Young, but with Stars, a song from their album Some Nights. The whole set turned dark with little dots of white light while Nate sang in what seemed like a very personal way to the audience, almost as though we were being sung to sleep after the fiery energy of the preceding songs. The lyrics seem to be about putting your hope in unseen forces ("you're always holding on to stars") and how things can often be disappointing when you look at them too closely ("I think they're better from afar"), which got me thinking about how stars sometimes represent the way we set ourselves unattainable goals. When we can't achieve them, we might blame destiny or fate. But, as Cassius says in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/ But in ourselves". So stars are both a symbol of aspiration and forces beyond our control, but that's not the only thing they can stand for. Looks like it's time for another of my recurring images posts.

Stars isn't the only song in which FUN. sing about stars. The whole of Some Nights is littered with references to them. In fact, the more you listen out for them, the more stars you notice being mentioned in all music, and poetry, books, films, even the news. We use the word 'star' to refer to celebrities and associate the classic 5-point star with dressing room door and the Walk of Fame. Stars are a motif of glamour and success, so it's no surprise that A-listers snapped up Christopher Kane's Resort 2011 collection, featuring the infamous galaxy print.

Christopher Kane Resort 2011
On pure impact alone, the collection was outstanding, and therefore a perfect choice for any red carpet event. But I think there's another reason for its success. When you look at the print, especially if the wearer is standing in front of a blank background, it looks almost as though their body has become a window to another universe. There's something very appealing about being clothed in the night sky don't you think?

When I'm old I shall wear midnight, she'd decided. But for now she'd had enough of darkness.
-A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett

When I look into the sky at night and see stars, I get the sense of something infinite, and perhaps that's why people want to wear the image of stars: to feel permanent. In reality though, stars are not as endless as we might think they are. I'm no physics student, so I think I'll let the lovely Brian Cox explain.

How comforting to know that one day "the cosmos will be plunged into eternal night". Anyway, the point is that our impression of stars is something of a paradox. On one hand we have brightness, beauty, hope, while on the other is impermanence and the fact that, no matter how bright a star shines, it will always be surrounded by darkness. Is it possible to capture all of this in a single work of art?

Van Gogh's Starry Night has to be the closest I can think of. The rolling, turbulent sky is both endless and somewhat threatening. In his letters, Van Gogh indicated that the image of the sky was calming to him, but there's also this sense which many take from the painting of something approaching. The church spire, so prominently at the centre of the town, appears insignificant when faced with the might of what almost looks like an oncoming storm. This might even indicate the way stars can make even the most important parts of our lives seem small in comparison.

To go in the complete opposite direction, what happens when, rather than representing lofty ideas, the stars themselves come to earth? That's the subject of Neil Gaiman's Stardust, which became a film (my favourite film ever, I must point out) in 2007. Yvaine is a star, but she is also a conscious, moving, speaking individual. The thought of all the aforementioned concepts which we attach to stars being personified is fascinating. Only she can't possibly embody all of those things, plus when Tristan tries to take a lock of her hair into the mortal world, it becomes a handful of stardust. Perhaps this shows us that things aren't always as we expect them to be, but that doesn't mean they aren't beautiful anyway. In the end, maybe that's what stars really mean to us: beauty in the face of all darkness.

Nicholas Oakwell AW11
I saw this gown at the V&A Ballgowns exhibition at the end of last year. It's by Nicholas Oakwell and I think it's a good summary of what I've been trying to convey throughout this post. At first glance, it's a dramatic dress in a dark colour, but once you begin to look, especially close up, there are so many interesting things about it. Its asymmetric design should give the gown a chaotic appearance, but instead a balance is achieved by careful drapery. The star print is just gorgeous, but also subtle, as though stardust is just now settling onto the fabric, and it will swirl around in a cloud if the wearer moves. Despite the potential for this gown to appear heavy in its darkness, its beauty makes it seem almost magical.

And on that note, I shall leave you with this.

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