Planet Bjork: The Bjork MoMA Retrospective

“For listeners to feel compelled to pick it up, they must be able to recognize themselves in it, but also feel that they’re encountering something much greater than themselves.That’s where Björk’s voice factors in. It’s a beautiful and powerful instrument, a valve for emotions bigger than our own, with a rasp that sounds like it’s coming from someplace between adolescence and adulthood. Basking in it can feel as nourishing, life-affirming and dangerous as an afternoon spent in the sun.”

-Chris Richards Washington Post

“You have a minute and fifty seconds.” Said the security guard at the entrance.

We are then lead into what appears to be a large sound proof room with all black interior and a large screen, one each on opposite ends of the room. I sit down on the carpet with about thirty or so other people and watch the music video for Bjork’s “Black Lake” for the first time.

I am consumed.

The base from the song makes the entire room tremble. Bjork is in a cave singing and convulsing and walking and emoting and releasing her full throated heartbroken testimonial . And I feel as If I am in a cave as well.

Her face is beginning to show age and I love that it doesn’t matter at all to her. She’s still the same inside. Still letting out all her pain, her passion, her heart in long guttural, primal yells, still depicting nature as the natural extension her own body and exposing her vulnerability, showing us her insides, the power of submission. As always, Bjork utilizes art, nature,technology, movement and sound to describe (not always interpret) her insides in ways I have never experienced before.

When it was over we all clapped. We were then ushered into another dark but larger room where long, flat, vibrant pink cushions were laid against the walls on each side. I found a spot on the floor way up front where I sat in rapt attention for over and hour while Bjork videos I had never seen before played and played and played.

I forgot I was hungry. I forgot I was tired. I forgot there were people all around me. No one made a sound for hours. I put my phone down. When “Big Sensuality” came on I started to sing in a tone low enough not be heard over the music except occasionally. I laughed and smiled and tapped my feet to the beat. When “Army of Me” and “Human Behavior” came on, I wanted to shout.

I was in Bjork world, not a world which is easy to describe except to say that no one else but BJork could make walking through a deserted landscape wearing a dress made entirely of bells seem like it’s the thing to do.

I want a dress made entirely of bells.

When you’ve followed and loved an artist for as long as I have Bjork, seeing a retrospective, even one as cramped and poorly executed as this one, it feels like you have a connection to absolutely everything on display, but it was really the music videos that absorbed my attention for hours. Every Bjork music video is an art piece. She is one of the few artists I’ve known whose musical work has always extended beyond the boundaries of sound and spilled out into the art world. Still, if music was all she had to offer it would still be more than enough to establish Bjork as an artistic genius of sound.

Her incredible new album “Vulnicura” (I don’t even know if this is a real word or something made up in Bjorks’ mind), inspired by the heartache of her recent break up from artist Matthey Barney is, like all her albums tend to be, an experience, an emotional journey. I listen to the sound in the beginning of “Family” and it calls to mind the landing of something extraterrestrial, something falling from the sky and hitting the ground softly. Despite it’s being the introduction to a song about the dismantling of a family, It’s a very comforting sound, for me signaling change and sudden unexpected shifts. Add to that her cathedral like, orchestral compositions, fusing classical with electronic, sonic and pop, what is produced is a sense of inhabiting a fully realized multidimensional world that attempts to express not merely regret but healing, declaration, transcendence and even joy as well as raw and sacred spaces within her where the nuances of these emotions reside.

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