The Sydney Morning Herald

Vivid Sydney : Bjork calls out ’boys’ club’ in music as she launches into virtual reality

Björk kept largely quiet about sexism for many years.

After all, the Icelandic singer had forged a ground-breaking career in music from the time she fronted punk rock band The Sugarcubes in the mid-1980s.

A good manager, Iceland’s tradition of gender equality and her punk background with its DIY ethos were perhaps all factors in her success.

"I’ve been really lucky," she says. "The fact that I’m a woman and I can do that, it’s kind of unique really."

But the Icelandic singer, who is in Sydney for the launch of the Björk Digital exhibition, says she has encountered misogyny.

"I have been hitting walls," she says. "Also, I think what’s really macho is for example the music journalists in the world, it’s really like a boys’ club.

"They like music that is … a lot of it is for boys."

But Björk, who won best actress at the 2000 Cannes film festival for Dancer in the Dark, says the movie industry’s treatment of women is worse.

"I did one film 16 years ago and I could not believe what it’s like for actresses out there," she says.

"It’s just a nightmare how they’re treated. They have absolutely so little say about what happens to their career or roles they play or also as they get older – guys can get older but not women."

However, she suggests the situation is slowly changing led by actors like Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton.

Generous with her time, Björk roams over topics beyond her exhibition of virtual reality works and music videos during an almost one-hour conversation.

She mentions an upcoming visit to Japan to meet up with her family and visit the island of Yakushima, a World Heritage site that inspired the anime Princess Mononoke.
Dental appeal

The 51-year-old singer also recalls her childhood attending a hippy school, declaring : "I absolutely love the dentist."

Her giggling suggests she is having a laugh, but Björk attributes her dental attraction to a fascination for the tools of his trade.

"I would sit in the stool and he would put those things in me and I would go ’Yes’," she says. "I was so ready for the future, to get out of this hippy, wooden whatever ... As a kid, the future always seemed to happen in the dentist’s room."

That memory is prompted by a question about the video for her song Mouthmantra, which was partly filmed with special cameras inside the singer’s mouth.

The dentist’s eye view of the singer’s teeth and tongue is one of the virtual reality experiences in the Björk Digital exhibition at Carriageworks.

The exhibition opens on June 3 with a sold-out concert where Björk will DJ and features videos shot in virtual reality for songs from her last album Vulnicura.

It also includes apps inspired by her Biophilia album and a retrospective of her music videos stretching back more than two decades.

Björk says she is impressed with Carriageworks, describing the former railway workshops as "a little bit punk where you can bring in your own universe and share it".

Small groups will be led through the exhibition to experience virtual reality works beginning with Black Lake, which was commissioned in 2015 by New York’s Museum of Modern Art for its poorly-received Björk exhibition.

Like the other tracks on Vulnicura, the song’s lyrics chronicle the singer’s heartbreak over the disintegration of her relationship with artist Matthew Barney, the father of her daughter Isadora, 13.

Filmed in caves in Iceland, the shoot was an ordeal for the singer and filmmaker Andrew Thomas Huang.

"It was really, really cold and I was barefoot walking around just singing this song over and over again," she says.

"The easiest thing would have been to press record and just like have a nervous breakdown in front of the camera," she adds, "which would have been very boring and predictable and, y’know, just guts and vulgarity for the sake of it."
’I am a bit of a magpie’

Björk is renowned for her genre-leaping music, innovative videos and collaborations with fashion designers, artists and musicians so her embrace of virtual reality technology should not be a surprise.

Björk, who divides her time between Brooklyn and Iceland, has increasingly taken up causes ranging from independence for Tibet to environmental issues.

However, she says : "I actually think a lot about my music is quite conservative. People think I’m taking the piss but I think just the fact I have my voice and that’s it."

She is "quite romantic", with an attraction to timeless melodies that can trigger intense emotions despite their simplicity.

"But I am a bit of a magpie and do like the new, shiny object that appeared from the sky, dropped on my head by a drone or whatever," she says. "I grab it and get obsessed with it."

Björk appreciates the intimacy created by VR – a "little private stage" – but she says : "It’s not at the end of the day about the shiny object but what it brings out in you".

She adds : "I really believe you can make technology emotional and I believe you can synchronise it with your subconscious and psyche and whatever you’re going through. It doesn’t have to be that cold, distant thing."
Emotional balancing act

A year into writing the award-winning album, Björk realised the emotional outpouring of Vulnicura, which she calls "a bit of a Greek tragedy", would be best told with virtual reality.

"It’s almost like a mini-psychological opera for one person," she says.

Four music videos have been made from the album, and Björk has worked with producers including Huang, Jesse Kanda on Mouthmantra and Warren du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones on Notget.

"I’m the guardian making sure the technology and emotions match," she says.

Björk says gut instinct guided her decisions over what personal details to reveal on Vulnicura, admitting it was a precarious balancing act.

"Are you going to tell your grandma about your sex life ?" she says. "Maybe you do or maybe your whole life you don’t then that one moment she asks you, you tell her.

"It’s the same thing with music – where to draw the line between the personal like what you share," she adds. "You just know when you’ve over-shared. It feels like you’re being exploited, it’s like a feeling."

Andrew Taylor

publié dans The Sydney Morning Herald - 01.06.2016

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