There she was, dancing to her own beats, obscured by a bunch of leafy pot plants in the corner of a large concrete warehouse/train station. What a strange feeling to be standing a few metres away from my ultimate all time favourite artist and musician. It was supposed to be a ‘dance party’ but not many were dancing. She Dj’d for FIVE whole hours. The more die-hard fans were gathered around her station, the taller of those among us and the ones closest to the front were able to catch glimpses of her sequenced face-mask, glinting off the coloured lights. She never made eye contact with the crowd. She was intent on the task at hand, mixing in world music, a surprising amount of RnB, indie bands and electro dance music. There were a few bands I recognised that had been remixed – Anthony and the Johnsons, the Internet. There were a lot of bollywood influenced tracks and the crowd seemed to like these the most, as we watched her dance behind her console in her head wiggling signature style. She dances like an excited child.
An hour earlier, we had crowded into her new digital art exhibition “Björk Digital”, where we experienced her up close and intimate in virtual reality headsets. This was clearly her intention, to give the crowds an opportunity to feel like we are the only ones with her, her digital self at times looming over us when we least expect it. One of the experiences is filmed from inside her mouth. I spent eight minutes watching the world through her teeth, a 360 degree experience of the wet muscly world of Bjork’s tongue and throat. In another, “black lake”, we see her beat her breast over and over at the end of a song, she is walking awkwardly barefoot through black jagged rock formations. She is physicalising her innermost turmoil, her sense of loss and frustration after breaking from her long term partner. Her body feels so vulnerable, surrounded by these black cold rocks – at one point, blue lava oozes like blood from her. It is beautifully done. The lyrics say it all – anger, betrayal, sadness, grief, brokenness.
“My heart is an enormous lake
black with potion
I am blind
Drowning in this ocean
My soul torn apart
My spirit is broken
Into the fabric of all
He is woven”
I find myself wondering whether any other artist of this scale of fame still trusts an audience this much with their rawest emotions. She lets us see her suffer. It reminds me of one of my favourite Bjork quotes:
“I would die for my art. There have been times when I’ve been touring for 15 months and I’m literally crawling on stage, and people say what’s more important, your health or tonight, and I always say tonight.”
In my favourite of the rooms, black headsets hang in a grid formation from the ceiling. We’re asked to buddy up so that we don’t walk into a complete stranger as we physically explore the virtual world. Inside the headset we see a hollowed out digital Björk made of glowing lights – we can walk right up to her, even right inside her – by the end of the song she has grown in height and is towering above us. All of these artworks only served to heighten the excitement of knowing that next door, Björk herself was waiting for us to come and dance the night away.
When we moved through finally to the dance space I have to admit it felt a bit like a wizard of Oz moment. The moment where ‘the great and powerful oz’ steps out from behind the curtain and you see he’s just a balding normal guy who’s been built up through costumes to be this all powerful wizard. But then again there’s something great about seeing her not performing as a singer – just doing her job – spinning beats for us to dance to. I just wished (and I’m definitely not the only one) that she could have been more accessible visibly while everyone was dancing. The two options were – queuing for about an hour to gain a spot to see her DJ, or dancing to the earsplittingly loud beats in the warehouse without seeing her at all. This I felt was a missed opportunity to really engage with the punters at an event which was really a celebration of her and her work. There was definitely a disappointed vibe in the crowd. She shied away from the spotlight after baring her digital soul.. it was an odd combo.
A few days later we went back to the exhibition and watched the exhibits we didn’t get a chance to see. We stayed for about an hour and watched a large selection of her incredible music videos. What struck me most was the variety of moods and approaches – each one is really a work of contemporary art. Some are confronting and political, some are playful and quirky, some are story telling and others are poetic and sensual. She is an artist of the utmost integrity, and despite having so much power and artistic talent at her fingertips, “Björk Digital” shows us that she’s indeed just a human being like the rest of us, who gets shy, who has her heart broken, who feels the need to express herself and connect with others in her own unique way.