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Björk: Like You’ve Never Seen Her Before

by Aimée Tian

Step into Björk’s virtual reality.

Pamphlet cover.

For those unfamiliar with the work of Björk Guðmundsdóttir, the 50-year-old Icelandic artist surely epitomizes what it means to be a “jack of all trades”. The singer/songwriter/actress has now been active for an astounding forty years, continuously redefining different modes of artistic production in groundbreaking ways. Of her latest (and greatest) pursuits is the ongoing project Björk Digital, currently hosted by Montréal’s very own DHC/ART foundation for contemporary art. 

In collaboration with the Phi Centre and Red Bull Music Academy, Björk Digital is an exhibition presented in three-fold. The first section is a compilation of five short virtual reality clips, and audiences are invited to move through the gallery space’s different floors. Employing Samsung and HTC technologies, viewers don VR goggles and headsets whilst sitting atop rotating stools.

My initial reaction upon completing this section was how ridiculous I must have looked spinning around and peering fervently with my huge headset. Comprised of the works Black Lake, Stonemilker VR, Mouth Mantra VR, Quicksand VR, and Family, respectively, Björk scores this work with tracks from her most recent album entitled Vulnicura (2015). These presentations function in duality as VR music videos, an innovative new field that Björk explores. 

These virtual worlds only become more and more spectacular through each shift in landscape - the result is a near-indescribable and unprecedented kind of feeling. The entire exhibition narrates the life, loves, heartbreak and sequentially, the process of healing experienced by Björk. Retreating from the depths of Björk’s virtual reality, it is difficult to not feel some type of way.

The second section, Björk Cinema, is “a curated program of Björk’s extensive and groundbreaking music videos spanning her career thus far” (DHC/ART). Inclusive are thirty videos of varying calibre, ranging from the somewhat bizarre to the absolute uncanny, presented together as a singular cinematic meanwhile. It is fully up to the viewer to remain in the theatre for anywhere between five minutes to upwards of two hours. 

Wrapping up the exhibition is Biophilia, situated in a generic white-cube gallery space. Borrowing on the description found in DHC/ART’s pamphlet, Biophilia is best described as a “hands-on educational space which showcases the innovative apps and custom-made musical instruments form Björk’s ‘Biophilia’, encouraging users to dive into an exploration of musicology science and technology all at once: their physical forces, processes and structures”. This part of the exhibit is largely immersive, allowing visitors to interact with Björk’s eponymous 2011 album through iPad applications.   

It is also important to note the laborious efforts that must have gone into the conception of Björk Digital. While it is one thing to produce artistic oeuvres in terms of tangible materiality (and that, in itself, is already an exceptional talent), it is quite another still to recreate an imagined virtual reality so that the viewer may see exactly what the artist has envisioned. The act of conveying exact, minute details down to the smallest digital matter in order to conceptualize and simulate virtual reality, demands immense communicative skill and undoubtedly, endless revisions. 

It’s amazing how much digital media has evolved over the last decade. 

I can’t help but think that one day, these seemingly ‘avant-garde VR goggles’ might be rendered useless, lost amongst the trope of tired technologies that include the 80s Nokia mobile phone and monochromatic box-television sets. Who knows what will happen in the next decade to come? I will patiently await the day that we are able to simulate all of our senses

If you get the chance, I would highly recommend paying a visit before the show closes. This exhibition is very much about first-hand experience – this mere synopsis does no justice. 

Björk Digital is on view at DHC/ART from October 15th to November 12th, 2016. 

Tickets for students are normally $15, and offered at a discount on Tuesdays for only $10. 

DHC/ART is located in the Old Port, at 451 & 465 Rue Saint-Jean, in Montréal, Québec.

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