Live Review: Björk Digital – Carriageworks, Sydney (04.06.16)

Arriving right on opening time, there’s already a substantial queue of people eager to make a beeline for the Björk Live DJ Set room. It’s a good thing that they are there early, as once you’re in the space, you quickly realise that if you want to actually see the Icelandic musical genius, you will have to hustle around a very tight, far right-hand corner filled will potted palms and arum lilies in order to catch a glimpse.

Björk finally emerges from behind the curtains wearing a beautiful custom made headpiece created by James Merry and takes centre stage amongst her makeshift jungle like the rare creature that she is. She begins to play everything from classical violin pieces to wild and chirpy jungle beats amusing and bemusing people who slowly start to bop along but also want to hold steadfast to their positions in the front row. People are a little confused by the configuration (‘How are we all supposed to see her like this?’), but it’s fairly clear that this arrangement is completely intentional.

We’re not witnessing a live Björk performance of her own songs after all. The five hour long DJ’ing marathon is not about her, it’s about the tracks that she wants to introduce you to and she doesn’t need to sit on high for you to discover some of her musical joys with her. The rest of the exhibition however is about her and that’s what she really wants you to see here tonight. So once you’ve managed to catch a glimpse of this rare and profound talent, joyfully waving her arms back and forth to her favourite tunes from within her miniature jungle (and have embedded this gorgeous image and soundscape into your mind), it’s time to move on and see what she’s come all of this way to show you.

After waiting in a relatively fast moving line for an hour the first part of the visual experience is ‘Black Lake’. A limited number of people enter a custom built immersive space featuring a cutting edge surround sound setup comprised of 50+ speakers. Two parallel, wide-angle screens play alternate video footage of Björk’s ‘Black Lake’, a 10-minute long video (from her latest album Vulnicura) in a room that you are encouraged to walk around in to experience the varying sound and visual dynamics.

The result is a powerful and gripping immersion into the world of the woman herself as she explores the grief resulting from the end of her relationship. From within the hollow of volcanic rubble she grips the ground and air on one screen as blue lava bursts out from the opposite screen, with her finally being reborn and walking free again in a lush green Icelandic landscape that has become a ubiquitous part of Björk’s visual storytelling (the imagery on both screens finally back in sync).

Following this, there are three virtual reality elements of the exhibition. Guests on both the Friday and Saturday opening nights were able to witness just one of three VR experiences due to the volume of people present however the exhibition is free and open until June 18th, if anybody would like to return and experience the other installations.

In ‘Stonemilker VR’, Björk appears in a 360 degree video clip shot on location in Iceland, performing the first track from Vulnicura. In ‘Mouth Mantra VR’, the viewer is transported into the singers mouth as it warps and moves while she sings through your headsets. If you turn your head one way you’ll find yourself peering at Björk’s tonsils, if you turn another you’ll see a row of teeth that appear to be warping and moving as the words of the song are being pushed through her mouth with you on the inside.

Finally in ‘Notget VR’, we are treated to the world premiere of this virtual reality experience in which you stand face to face with Björk’s silhouette in a gridded cube as the particles of her body change and flow and she grows larger and larger towards the completion of her song. You are able to walk a complete 360 degrees around her figure (if you can try not to bump into the other person sharing the space with you) and you can almost reach out to touch the exquisite headpiece she’s wearing except your hands fall short and you can’t see your own limbs as you try. If you haven’t tried VR yet, all I can say is that this is an exhibition 100% worthy of being your first experience.

In the Biophilia room, you will find a hands on educational touchscreen space where you are encouraged to explore the numerous Biophilia apps which delve into an exploration of musicology, science and technology. Created five years ago with the input of education experts and scientists, it has now been included in the national curriculum’s across Scandinavia.

Finally for those wanting to wrap themselves up in the warmth of something a little more familiar (or fill in any gaps) there is the Björk Cinema, which showcases a retrospective of all of her highly acclaimed music video clips from over the years on a loop. You can sit back and relax while watching the entire visual evolution of one of the greatest artists of all time from beginning to end. I actually can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.

Björk Digital is on at Carriageworks as a part of Vivid Sydney until the 18th June 2016. The exhibition is free to attend however bookings are advised for VR rooms.