TIMED TO COINCIDE WITH THE RETROSPECTIVE EXHIBITION OF COSTUMES, INSTRUMENTS AND PERFORMANCE AT NO LESS PRESTIGIOUS A VENUE THAN NEW YORK’S MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, THE NEW BJÖRK BOOK – ARCHIVES (A BOX SET DUE FOR PUBLICATION IN MARCH) – OFFERS A VARIETY OF PERSPECTIVES ON THE ICELANDER’S FIRST TWO DECADES AS A SOLO ARTIST.
The publication of ARCHIVES, the staging of the exhibition and the release of new nine-track album VULNICURA provide the opportunity to look back at Björk’s solo-career trajectory; from the exciting city street / club beats of 1993’s visceral and exploratory DEBUT (though, strictly speaking, that was her second solo outing; in her homeland she’d been a child star and in 1977, aged just twelve, issued a self-titled record) to the cosmic concepts explored on the intellectually considered 2011 apps / album BIOPHILIA, which slid the relationship between technology and the natural world under her unique musical microscope. In a truly fascinating new edition of The Mouthcast we take that opportunity. Through an extended interview with BIOPHILIA collaborator and academic musicologist Professor Nicola Dibben, we look back across Björk’s body of work and focus on the themes which run through it.
ARCHIVES presents a variety of fresh perspectives on those themes “through poetry, academic analysis, philosophical texts and stunning visuals”. It travels similar terrain to DAVID BOWIE IS…, a heavyweight volume published as companion for 2013’s major exhibition of the same name, staged at the V&A in London and now traversing the globe (one can but hope that MOMA’s Björk retrospective will also head out for a world tour after completing its three-month residency in New York). Housed in a hardback slipcase, ARCHIVES comprises a 192-page book, four booklets and a fold-out poster. Three of the booklets contain illustrated essays by, respectively, Klaus Biesenbach (Director of MOMA and the curator of the exhibition), magazine writer Alex Ross and Professor Nicola Dibben. The fourth features an extended and intimate e-mail conversation between Björk and the philosophy / ecology writer Timothy Morton, which gives valuable insight into the progressive intelligence characterising her concepts. The book focuses on the seven major albums – DEBUT, POST (1995), HOMOGENIC (1997), VESPERTINE (2001), MEDÚLLA (2004), VOLTA (2007) and BIOPHILIA – and the personas created for each, through a conceptual text by Icelandic poet and long-time collaborator Sjón. His piece is accompanied by previously unpublished photos of Björk performing live, stills from her music videos (by sympathetic directors including Michel Gondry, Chris Cunningham and Spike Jonze), images of her frequently breathtaking costumes (by designers such as Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan) and shots by star photographers (such as Nan Goldin, Juergen Teller, Stéphane Sédnaoui, Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin and Araki). The poster features the distinctive artwork for Björk’s albums and thirty-or-so accompanying singles.
While the ARCHIVES package doesn’t quite constitute the complete picture (as a companion piece you would be well advised to seek out a copy of Björk’s eponymous 2001 book, as close to an autobiography as might be got), the contents here co-depend and complement beautifully to create an immersive experience. Again like the V&A’s David Bowie book, this is a triumph – exactly the kind of respectful and considered appreciation a master artist merits.
Professor Nicola Dibben (BSc, MA, MEd, PhD, FHEA) guests on this in-depth new edition of The Mouthcast – and, across fifty fascinating minutes, we discuss aspects of Björk’s art and career. The musicologist talks about her own full-length academic study (BJÖRK, first pub. 2009), how she came to work alongside the artist on her BIOPHILIA project, what that work entailed in terms of delivering Björk’s ambitious artistic vision, and the rare insight the close working relationship gave her into working practices and creative methods. We reflect on how the Icelandic Declaration Of Independence in June 1944 meant a collision of traditional culture and the modern world (a theme which resonates through Björk’s work to this day), and we discuss the unusual techniques she used on HOMOGENIC to deliver a unique love-letter to her homeland. We also talk about the intent behind Björk’s remixes, other landmark albums from the 1990s (DEBUT and POST) and, of course, her stunning new release VULNICURA.
Pre-order BJÖRK – ARCHIVES here
Order a copy of Nicola Dibben’s 2009 study BJÖRK here
Order a copy of Bjork’s new album VULNICURA on deluxe CD here
Buy tickets for a February 8th screening of BIOPHILIA LIVE (in Sheffield, with an introduction from Nicola Dibben) here
More information on the MOMA retrospective here