Visitors to the Museum of Modern Art were dazzled last year by a richly immersive retrospective of Björk’s 20-year career. It was somewhat unparalleled—not least for an artist to have a retrospective mid-career—but Björk’s body of work has always eschewed conventions. Her fastidious commitment to the curation of every aspect of every album has never faltered, making the exhibition both a cohesive look at the Grammy-nominated artist’s diverse oeuvre, which calls upon fashion, film, architecture, and the visual arts to complement music, and a forum for the then-unreleased material that accompanied Björk’s eighth studio album, the cerebral and deeply visceral masterpiece, Vulnicura.
Björk's work was exhibited across a cornucopia of mediums: Bizarre instruments used on Biophilia (everything from a pipe organ to a Tesla coil) welcomed patrons on the first floor, while the narrative of Björk’s life was told through the lens of Icelandic poet Sjon (a collaborator alongside Björk and Lars von Trier on New World). Two whole screening rooms were dedicated to Björk’s work in and on video: the first which traced the history of Björk through old music videos that have since reached iconic status, while the second premiered the ten-minute video for Black Lake inside a custom-built sound environment made of 8,000 foam cubes.
The MoMA-commissioned film was directed by visual guru Andrew Thomas Huang and filmed over three days in Björk’s native Iceland. In the film, her intimate, one-on-one performance embodies the grueling post-heartbreak healing process, augmented by Huang’s stunning VFX. Today, The Creators Project premieres an exclusive look at the making of Black Lake with Björk, Andrew Thomas Huang, and Autodesk, who produced the behind-the-scenes video:
In an exclusive interview, Björk tells The Creators Project that watching Black Lake at MoMA was “so physical it makes my insides rumble.” The entire Vulnicura release has seemed to have had a similar effect on the artist, who cancelled her tour for the purposes of “starting anew.” The album seeps with heartache, just as the album cover (also by Andrew Thomas Huang) illustrates.
“I talked a lot with Andy Huang about the yoga position called ‘the bridge,'” Björk says of the inspiration behind the stirring artwork. “For me, there’s something very ritualistic about this position, where you acknowledge that you have a wound, and by going into this pose and lifting yourself up, you are starting the healing process. And the tools you need to get healed will appear to you.”
Huang empathized with Björk’s creative direction, as he tells The Creators Project, ”The first piece of work I did with Björk was called Mutual Core, from Biophilia. And I guess Biophilia, for Björk, was so ornamental and very academic, so the video I did with her the first time was incredibly visual and had all the bells and whistles. Also, all the video effects and technology we used to make it were very apparent. Whereas with Black Lake, it was so different for so many reasons... We both knew that Black Lake would be a very conscious stripping away. It was very much about showing Björk in the most naked and emotional light possible.”
“In the beginning I started out with something much closer to Mutual Core. It was first designed to have all of these ‘dark fantasy’ moments. I hate to even use the word ‘fantasy,' because in all of Björk’s work there is what’s happening in her real life, and then the proxy that she invents that’s like a more mythological character.”
Vulnicura reflects perhaps the thinnest margin between those two personas. Björk explains that even Iceland’s harrowing chill was a source of inspiration: “It was very cold there and I was singing fully voiced and was walking barefoot on the lava so it was kinda extreme conditions but perfect for the song. This is probably one of my most visceral songs, so [it was] essential to go to that place.”
The video itself relied almost entirely on natural light, which isn’t easy to come by in Iceland. The only supplementary light added is the brazen spotlight that follows Björk through the cave and up the mountain.
"Our mission at Autodesk is all about the future of making things," Autodesk's Brian Pene tells The Creators Project. "We've been enabling a broad set of tools for people to make things with our tools and our software. Looking at Björk's early vision for Black Lake, there were a lot of tools that were available that pointed to this collage-ist approach to her music but also how we use our creative tools here."
"The Iceland landscapes were breathtaking, so there was a minimal amount of CG and optical effects involved," Pene explains. "I fully honor the amazing work they put in and the vision around it, from my perspective it really created an amazing emotional piece. It ended up very authentic"
“This was such an intimate piece that Björk ultimately is the special effect,” Huang continues, “For Björk, this wasn’t her acting. She was really accessing something truthfully personal in front of us.”
The closely collaborative relationship between Björk and Huang is evident. “I'm blessed with being connected to someone that talented,” Björk explains, “Who not only can take on the emotional and the old school filmic element of things but is also incredibly savvy technically and always with the finger on the pulse when it comes to new gadgets. He is also one of those incredibly flexible, creative people who can take all my ideas and weave them into his own and his whole vision. Doesn’t have unnecessary ego getting in his way…”