Virtual reality

Tracing Björk’s most iconic music video moments
By Joey Levenson | 1 September 2016

Top Image: Moon (2011), dir. Björk, M/M Paris, Inez & Vinoodh and James Merry

Ahead of her sell-out shows at The Royal Albert Hall and Eventim Apollo this month, Icelandic singer Björk has brought her idiosyncratic artistry to Somerset House for an exclusive one-month digital exhibition, kicking off today. To celebrate this, we’re taking a look back at some of her most iconic visual works.

Whilst an outstanding singer-songwriter, Björk is an artist known for creating beautiful and artistic videos. In fact, what makes her talent so unique is her ability to use the visual stimulant as an accessory to the music. Within each video a story unravels that invites us in to Björk’s sublime world, whether it be something profound or something just outright peculiar.

Now, in no particular order, here are some of the videos we think define Björk’s prolific filmic oeuvre.

Big Time Sensuality (1993), dir. Stéphane Sednaoui

Big Time Sensuality is probably one of Björk’s most recognised images, despite being a far cry from her usual music video epics. Backdropped by a frantic and chaotic Manhattan, Björk mindlessly dances atop an eighteen-wheeler in a simple black-and-white image. There’s no outlandish outfits or quirky make-up, just the singer in her simple wild entirety. We see her clad in an ensemble plucked straight from the 90’s epoch, fuzzy cropped jumpers and space-buns included. During the video, Björk’s positioned in centre-frame, stares down the camera, and proceeds to unleash herself to the audience with a forsaken emotional honesty. Whilst this is rare endeavour from Björk, it’s certainly one of her most rewarding works.

It's Oh So Quiet (1995), dir. Spike Jonze

It’s Oh So Quiet has undoubtedly become Björk’s most famous release, and a large part of that success comes from her collaboration with Hollywood director Spike Jonze on the now-iconic music video. The song is an excessive and optimistic re-do of Betty Hutton’s original, and that exuberance is exactly what Jonze channels in the video. Each shot seems to be ripped from a real-life Disney princess film, wherein Björk spreads her infectious melody across the streets as she dances by her onlookers. With the added likes of a Björk stunt-double flipping around in every frame, and a final crane shot which elevates the singer in to the skies, this video is one to remember for years to come.

All Is Full Of Love (1999), dir. Chris Cunningham

Moving on from her most commercially acclaimed video to her most critically acclaimed, All Is Full Of Love  is considered one of Björk’s finest moments and, again, it’s success can be attributed to it’s video. The video has been regarded by critics as one of the best music videos of all time, and even gathered high enough esteem to have it put on permanent display at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. Director Chris Cunningham described it as a combination of “several fetishes: industrial robotics, female anatomy, and fluorescent light”. The video depicts two robots being brought to life and finding love before getting all handsy with one another, invoking a kind of A.I. Kama Sutra. It’s sensual, haunting, and sad all at once. Does Björk dream of electric sheep?

Stonemilker (2015), dir. Andrew Thomas Huang

Originally exhibited at MoMA and subsequently released via YouTube and a mobile phone app, Stonemilker is a 360-degree virtual reality video that depicts Björk walking along an Icelandic beach, portraying it’s often forgotten stunning landscape. The video is entirely immersive, allowing viewers to view her at every angle, almost surrounding themselves with the ubiquitous song. Whilst the concept may be simple at heart, it’s the innovative and groundbreaking making of the video which makes it so astonishing. It evokes beautiful imagery with clever technicality, and its release via an interactive mobile app allowed for an intimate one-on-one connection between Björk and the viewer. Go on, take a few minutes to play around with the video’s 360 tool – this might be your only chance to stroll on the beach with Björk.

Triumph of a Heart (2005), dir. Spike Jonze

Björk’s third collaboration with Spike Jonze comes a video that is quintessentially Björk. It’s weird, it’s taboo, and it was made because…why the hell not? In the video, the musician flees her house to get away from her estranged husband, who is portrayed by a cat (yes, an actual tabby cat). She subsequently goes out on a night of drinking with friends, performing songs, and crazy dancing, until she passes out on the road and wakes up the next morning with love hearts coming out of her mouth. Naturally, Björk and her cat-husband reconcile. I think that’s pretty much all you need to know about Björk in one paragraph. The video became so popular, that it even spawned a cat meme.

Wanderlust (2008), dir. Isaiah Saxon and Sean Hellfritsch (Encyclopedia Pictura)

Björk is someone who doesn’t rest until she’s broken ground on all corners of innovation. Here, she champions the technicalities of music videos with a groundbreaking 3D feature. The video was shot in stereoscopic 3D, and took over nine months to create. That’s longer than most movie productions, by the way. Behind the scenes, a custom made 3D camera was built (because people will do anything for Björk) and a combination of large scale puppeteering, live-action acrobatics, miniatures, and computer graphics were used. Björk never half-assess things. Sadly portable 3D glasses aren’t yet a common accessory, but you can watch the 2D version above.

Pagan Poetry (2001), dir. Nick Knight

Never has Björk appeared more stunning than she does in this video. Shot by esteemed fashion photographer Nick Knight, the video strips down the superstar to an iconic Alexander McQueen dress, a garment which evokes the song’s ‘pagan’ namesake. The video does an amazing job of portraying the singer’s raw and untapped emotion, showing a side of Björk’s sexuality that is often disregarded. Subsequently, due to the video’s opening scene where the viewer is lead to believe Björk is engaging in oral sex, it was banned by MTV for being too explicit. Soon enough, after everyone realised the genius of this masterpiece — and that an opening innuendo, a nipple flash, and a dress sewed on to a body is really not that big of a deal— it was allowed back on the airwaves.

Human Behaviour (1993), dir. Michel Gondry

To round off this list, we’re taking it back to the beginning. Björk’s debut video was quick to put her on the map as the artist to watch. It evoked the obscure artistry she’s known for today, and began her partnership with director Michel Gondy — which would end up spanning for another eight videos. The video is done through the perspective of an animal reflecting on humans, and the visuals appear as a children’s book come to life. Also look out for a cameo of Spaceman-Björk who plants a Soviet flag on the moon (pretty adept political commentary for a story about kids and animals, if you ask us).

The Björk Digital exhibition runs from st1 September – 23rd October at Somerset House, WC2R 1LA.
You can find out more information and book tickets here.

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