‘Bjork’ at the MoMA


By Veronica Chavez

Photo by Stephane Sednaoui. Image courtesy of Wellhart Ltd & One Little Indian.

Earlier this month, New York City’s Museum of Modern Art debuted its latest retrospective, Bjork, an exhibition that is as much about technology as it is about the beloved Icelandic singer.

In the museum lobby, visitors are first met with a singing Tesla coil–a device that swings in pendulum-like fashion to produce sound waves similar to that of an analog synthesizer. Alongside the apparatus is a gravity harp, a pipe organ, and a gameleste–all mechanisms Bjork used in her 2011 album, Biophilia.

The second floor of the museum is divided into two sections. The first is a custom-built room consisting of 44 loudspeakers, two giant panoramic screens, and 6,000 computer-designed and hand stitched felt cones. The dark room empties and fills in 10-minute increments for viewings of the artist’s film, “Black Lake.”

Photo by Jonathan Muzikar. Image courtesy of MoMA.

The “Black Lake” installation is aimed at immersing the viewer completely into Bjork’s heart-wrenching film, the visual accompaniment for the main single in her ninth studio album, Vulnicura, released in January.

Mostly set in a series of dark caves, the video follows Bjork, who crawls and walks unsteadily and barefoot as her celestial cries echo throughout the room. The piece renders a physical representation of the broken heart she sings about.

In an adjacent room, the mood is quite different. Plush, red, block-like couches are scattered about, leaving guests to lounge in whatever position the space allows. A large screen plays the singer’s music videos from the pop-star’s career. The set-up is extremely simple, but succeeds at showcasing the lively and eccentric diversity of the visual artistry Bjork’s videos offer.

Photo by Jonathan Muzikar. Image courtesy of MoMA.

MoMA’s third floor holds the most-interactive part of the tour: Songlines.

The experience is audio-driven. Taking the first few steps, Bjork’s greatest hits begin playing in the background with a poem read by Icelandic poet Sjon in the forefront. Progressing through the exhibit, the location-based audio coincides with whichever piece the viewer focuses on. The audio also “responds” to how closely the viewer looks at the pieces. By inching closer to a Bjork costume for example, the music gets louder.

As a long-time fan of Bjork, it was a nostalgic and pleasant experience walking through Songlines and noticing familiar outfits and props from her career. Nevertheless, I don’t believe Bjork succeeded at thoroughly encompassing the truly electric essence of the performer.

The exhibit seemed too static for such an animated and stimulating spirit as Bjork. I also couldn’t fully appreciate each piece since the Songlines portion was timed and I often found myself being ushered forward by the approaching crowd.

All in all, the retrospective leaves much to be desired.

While the exhibition does an excellent job at reminding fans of the expansive and unique career the Icelandic avant-garde performer encompasses, perhaps it’s impossible to capture the totality of Bjork’s magic-like persona.

‘Bjork’ will be on display at the MoMA in New York City until Jun 7, 2015.