Björk Digital immerses visitors in singular singer’s world

Montreal Gazette, 18 octobre 2016

I was inside Björk’s mouth Monday morning. She was singing ; her teeth and tongue were moving. Her uvula was dangling. Then everything started spinning.

No, this wasn’t a dream, but rather one of the stations on her virtual-reality-heavy exhibit Björk Digital, a co-presentation of Red Bull Music Academy and the Phi Centre that opened Saturday at DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art ; it continues through Nov. 12.

Montreal is getting a lot of Björk over the coming month. Next week, the Icelandic electro-pop star stops in to the visiting Red Bull Music Academy, where she will give an invitation-only talk to its international roster of participants and perform two sold-out DJ sets, Oct. 25 and 26 at Cirque Éloize.

For those not quick enough on the draw to nab tickets to the in-person events, Björk Digital offers a unique experience of a different kind : the chance to spend an hour, or two or three, in close quarters with the artist’s electronic alter ego.

Wandering from room to room and floor to floor in DHC’s main building, in Old Montreal, one is treated to five performances of songs from Björk’s 2015 album Vulnicura, about her breakup with American contemporary artist Matthew Barney.

Black Lake plunges us into the depths of the earth — a subterranean setting in which a barefoot Björk coos “Did I love you too much ?” over solemn strings and staggered drumbeats. Commissioned by New York’s Museum of Modern Art and directed by L.A. filmmaker Andrew Thomas Huang, the piece ends on a note of optimism as Björk finds her way to the surface and wanders a green, rocky landscape, announcing “I am a glowing, shiny rocket.” Of course she is.

A floor above, Stonemilker finds her clad in a yellow-green dress, singing and dancing with theatrical flourish. Also directed by Huang, the video stands out for its striking setting (shot on the coast of Iceland) and the intimacy of the experience. Björk sings and gesticulates directly to the camera while moving in circles, forcing the viewer to continue turning in order to keep up.

The above-noted Mouth Mantra is next, followed by Quicksand, a live performance in Tokyo enhanced with expressionistic lines of vibrant colour emanating from and swirling around her head.

The pièce de résistance is the world première of Family, the most interactive, surreal and visually immersive of the works. It’s hard to resist the urge to use the joystick-controlled hands one is given to reach out and touch the animated android Björk standing just a few feet away, who moves up to and through us during the course of the performance.

While some of the works aren’t much more than low-resolution music videos with some added bells and whistles, pervading the show is an arresting sense of intimacy, of being privy to a one-on-one interaction with one of the world’s most singular singer-songwriters, who is always seeking new ways to elevate her creations.

“I feel the chronological narrative of the album is ideal for the private circus virtual reality is,” Björk says on her website.

Sitting in a series of dimly lit rooms with a couple dozen other Björk fans, donning your headset and getting pulled into one strange world after another in close quarters with the artist, it’s hard to disagree.

“I think she’s trying to put emotion back into art,” said Paul Clay, executive producer of the Manchester International Festival, who flew in to oversee the setup of the installation, as he did for shows in Sydney, Tokyo and London earlier this year. Montreal boasts the North American première of the exhibit.

As a bonus, the show includes a two-hour compilation of Björk’s music videos, shown on the big screen in a separate room into which viewers can come and go at will ; and rows of tablets on which people can toy around with the interactive app that accompanied her 2011 album Biophilia.

And if that’s not enough, you can pick up some Björk to go : vinyl copies of her albums, Björk T-shirts and even coffee mugs are on sale at the DHC information desk.

par T'Cha Dunlevy publié dans Montreal Gazette