Pillbox

Bjork

Musician, composer, and singer, Bjork has the art world around her finger. You’ve probably seen the infamous swan dress she wore to the Academy Awards in 2001, or heard the rumor that Iceland gave her a private island to thank her for her cultural contributions. Her path to stardom started at the humble age of 12. In an interview with the Polar Music Prize, Bjork described the routine of her 30-minute walk to school through the winding hills of Iceland, singing all the way. Bjork was also the frontwoman for celebrated Icelandic punk band the Sugarcubes, before embarking as a solo artist in 1992.

In tandem with her ninth album released in 2015, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) produced a retrospective of Bjork’s work. Addressing a question never explored at this scale: “how do you put music on the walls of a museum?” the MoMA turned to Bjork’s archive of film, costumes, visuals, and objects to fill the galleries. Collaborating with directors Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, and designers like Iris van Herpen, each of Bjork’s music videos functions as a diorama, pulling you deeper into the world she shapes through her lyrics. Interested in pushing the relationship between music, visuals and technology even farther, MoMA commissioned two music videos from Vulnicura directed by Andrew Thomas Huang of Black Lake. Perhaps the most haunting and vulnerable song on the album is Stonemilker, shot in 360-degree virtual reality. Vulnicura documents the heartache of her separation from her partner of thirteen years, and fellow artist, Matthew Barney. Footnotes in the album book mark the chronology of their breakup. In Stonemilker, surrounded by the vast rocky terrain of Iceland, Bjork looks straight into the camera singing, “a juxtaposition in fate/ find our mutual coordinates… show me emotional respect, oh respect, oh respect” Her asymmetrical florescent yellow dress accentuates her motions as she waves her arms. A juxtaposition that can be seen in many of her songs, Bjork’s performance has a strength and whimsical presence as she sings a declaration of heartache.

Themes like the power, vastness of nature, heightened emotions, technology, and exploration of the human psyche remain constant in Bjork’s work. As we further embark into the digital age, technology is not only a tool, but a necessity to participate in contemporary culture and industry. In an interview with Creative Review, Bjork discussed her connection to technology as a maker, “I feel it is important that the artist helps define it and mold it. Because who else is going to put humanity and soul into it?” Bjork is not defining this on her own though. Collaborating with writers, software developers, artists, designers, and musicians, Bjork released a multimedia interactive music app that allows you to explore her 2011 album, Biophilia in 3D space through videos, games, essays, and interfaces that allow you to create your own mixes from instruments used in each of the songs. It is now being used in public middle school education across Iceland and other parts of Scandinavia.

Her eclectic sound influenced by dance, electronic, pop, classical, and avant-garde music isn’t for everyone, but the relevance and power of her voice holds a lot of weight in shaping the path of contemporary music and interdisciplinary art. Regardless, anyone can appreciate the artistry of the costumes, visuals, and videos that frame her songs. Bjork addresses how we understand ourselves and our roles in a global and information-saturated society suspended in complexities of natural and digital environments to a degree I haven’t seen any other artist do.