Eccentric, eclectic, unusual, and shithouse—Bjork has been called all of the above.
Survey any four people on their opinion of the Icelandic queen’s eccentric brand of music and you’re likely to get at least one of those responses—or a double serving of the latter.
But love or loathe her music, you can’t help but respect Bjork’s work and unique artistic vision—whether it’s music, film or art installations—even if she does come across as batshit crazy and self-serving at times. In fact, that’s all part of her charm. She’s out there but immensely talented at the same. And the very definition of experimental.
So when the chance came to experience Bjork Digital at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles this month—a 90 minute existential virtual reality excursion deep underground—this hack let out a guttural “fuck that”. Before quickly catching my ageing mug in a window reflection and realizing I’d just succumb to a teenage reflex—”Bjork sucks balls, long live Metallica”.
But if I can enjoy blue cheese and paying $21 for a glass or shiraz, I sure as fuck am mature enough to finally enjoy one of the greatest and most controversial artists of our time.
Full disclosure, it was also an arvo off work, so I at least owed it to those out there grinding the 9-5 to take advantage of the freedom. And it wasn’t half bad. In fact, it was kick ass (teen reflex).
Other than having to sit through an optional 45 minutes of Bjork’s most obscure hits at the culmination of the experience, Bjork Digital was nothing short of sensational. In fact, I’m prepared to say it’s the most fun you can have in an art gallery without beer—which is recommended against given the sheer visual ferocity of some of the augmented reality experiences. But hey, don’t take our word for it.
Anyhow, the gist of the exhibition is that it’s the virtual incarnation of four songs from Bjork’s ninth album, Vulnicura, which was released on VR a few months back. And it’s made up of six interactive installations, each more immersive than the last.
It’s sensory overload, and there are even tissues on hand if you’re too overcome with emotion from stop No.4, where your arms are digitally immersed in the experience—like, a digital rendering of your actual arms that you can move in real time.
Like most days, it all starts out with an iPad. But this ain’t no morning news or Reddit/r/gonewild. With a bunch of people, I’m herded into a room and given headphones and an iPad, then told to interact with an interplanetary music app designed by Bjork, building my own universe and own music. It’s a figure-it-out-as-you-go type thing, but already better than I expected. Got that Diplo vibe down pat.
Next, I’m shepherded into a black room with more than 100 speakers, each playing a different musical part as we walk around the cavernous space to experience each sound on its own merits, while watching Bjork on two big screens performing what looks to be some sort of Icelandic mating ritual.
Then the 360 experiences come—fucking, yes. And we enter a room where we’re greeted by a heap of 360 swivel stools. But sadly, no bar in sight. But before I can put my wallet back in its pocket, I’m fitted with a VR headset and headphones that don’t quite fit my noggin. Regardless, within seconds I’ve adjusted the goggles to find Bjork yelling at me on a dark winter’s beach, surrounded by crashing waves and sand, and inviting me to explore. A few minutes in and having seen Bjork from every angle, and the galaxy below my feet, I focus on the right-hander in the background. It could be all right under the right conditions…
The next room is identical and the goggles just as sweaty as the last, but the forehead tinea is worth it once I’m teleported directly inside Bjork’s mouth – literally. And I quickly take solace in the fact that even rich people forget to go to the dentist.
Combined with eerie and experimental tunes only Bjork can provide, I’m convinced that the mouth video and the fluorescence light show that immediately follows had to have been created by designers on a combo of acid, molly, No-Doze and Nimbin’s best. You can’t make that stuff up.
It’s then we’re shuffled into room No.4 for the first of two stand-up experiences, the second and last immersion allowing you to not just look into her world, but walk around it, too as she transforms into a psychedelic butterfly.
It’s now, high on an exhibition like no other, that I’m coaxed into a final room where surely I’ll get to join my friends in the same virtual universe. Well, the first part is true. We’re all sat down in front of a 100-inch screen waiting to have our minds blown all over again, only to realize we were back in a plain old reality and left to suffer through what seems like Bjork’s entire back catalogue of film clips. As epic as they are, and Spike Jonze directed one, it’s a little underwhelming after the sensory explosion of the previous 50 minutes. Though with reports of people being physically sick courtesy of their losing their VR virginity in an often psychotic array of moving images that form an epileptic nightmare, one can’t help but think that calming the guests down is the point.
All in all, I walked out an enlightened man. And have been sniffing my own farts ever since.