The Icelandic artist is bringing a world premiere exhibition of new virtual reality work to Carriageworks for Vivid Sydney
This free exhibition focuses on the Icelandic pop artist's recent virtual reality video works, and the Australian premiere of Black Lake, an "immersive cinema experience featuring a cutting edge surround sound system" (which was commissioned by – and premiered at – New York's Museum of Modern Art, in 2015).
Björk Digital will open with two parties at Carriageworks at which the artist herself will DJ for four-to-five hours each night, taking the audience on an unashamedly self-indulgent journey through her record collection.
Björk Digital: the guide
What even is it?
Björk Digital showcases immersive film clip experiences developed by the artist and collaborators to accompany the tracks ‘Stonemilker’, ‘Black Lake’, ‘Notget’ and ‘Mouth Mantra’, from her 2015 album Vulnicura. (The album, her ninth, is all about heartbreak – inspired by her break-up with long-term partner, artist Matthew Barney).
Björk Digital also showcases the artist's educational app Biophilia, and the entirety of her video-clip back-catalogue, in regular 2D cinema.
Do I need to book a ticket?
The entire exhibition is free, but some parts are ticketed: to see ‘Black Lake’, ‘Mouth Mantra’, ‘Stonemilker’ and ‘Notget’ you’ll need to book a time slot – in advance or on the day. We suggest doing it in advance (half the exhibition appears to have booked out before it has officially opened).
What will the exhibition look/sound like?
Basically each part of this exhibition is designed to be immersive, but in quite different ways. For example: at one end of the spectrum is the garden-variety 2D cinema experience; at the other end of the ‘immersive’ spectrum is the latest generation of virtual reality technology, using a games engine to create a dynamic, reactive audiovisual experience (basically: as if you were roving around a room with Björk while she performed live for you).
The first ‘station’ or room in the exhibition is a purpose built black box in which you can experience the ten-minute film clip for ‘Black Lake’, set in the Icelandic highlands (and directed by artist and filmmaker Andrew Thomas Huang).
Two wide wall-mounted screens face each other from opposite walls in the room, and you are pretty much surrounded by state-of-the-art speakers, delivering a cutting-edge surround-sound experience.
The sound design is the key ‘immersive’ part of this experience, and the best way to experience it is in groups of no more than 25 people at a time – which is why you need to book a time slot to visit this part of Björk Digital.
‘Mouth Mantra’ + ‘Stonemilker’
The next two chambers in the exhibition, which are adjacent to each other but separated by heavy black curtains, are the virtual reality experiences ‘Stonemilker’ (also directed by Andrew Thomas Huang) and ‘Mouth Mantra’ (directed by Jesse Kandra). Each room contains small clusters of chairs; each chair comes with a pair of headphones and VR goggles. You sit, you put ‘em on, you enter the world of the filmclip.
Both these film clip experiences use relatively old virtual reality technology, and offer a linear fixed-depth experience (as opposed to creating environments that react to your movement or perspective).
‘Stonemilker’ puts you in the 360 degree landscape of Grótta beach, near Reykjavik (you can see how this works in the YouTube clip for ‘Stonemilker’). ‘Mouth Mantra’ puts you inside a realistic (and slightly claustrophobic) replica of Björk’s mouth – you have been warned.
Technician Andrew Melchior describes the technology used for these clips as “360-degree dome video”, because it’s created by filming with a ‘ball camera’ (a ball covered in lots of small camera lenses) and then stitching those film images together into a 360-degree dome.
What this means is that you can only get a linear experience (the clip plays start to finish) and the experience is not interactive: you can look around the environment, but it does not react to your movement – if you move closer to Björk, you will not see her up close or hear louder (closer) vocals.
The filmclip for ‘Notget’ is using the latest VR technology – and this is the most exciting experience in the Björk Digital exhibition – although it comes with a disclaimer: at the press conference for Björk Digital (on June 2) the artist admitted that the work was not yet in its complete state, and was a work in progress. She said “we made the brave decision to show it as it is.”
The ‘Notget’ experience uses a “real-time graphics engine”, and the context (the ‘world’ of the film clip, if you like) dynamically changes as you shift position. Just as importantly, this games engine is also creating a real time spatialised soundtrack: as you move closer to digital Björk, her voice gets louder, and as you walk away it gets a little more distant.
The Cinema Room
You don’t need a booking for this part of the exhibition – just rock up and dip into Björk’s back catalogue of film clips (remastered for digital screening), which includes collaborations with Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Chris Cunningham, Nick Knight and Stéphane Sednaoui.
This is the last room in the exhibition, with a long table along which various app ‘stations’ are set up, where you can play with the Biophilia suite.
Created in 2014, Biophilia (which you can buy and use on your smartphone or iPad) is an education tool that combines music, science, technology and creativity in a touch-screen app for teaching and learning music and science.
The app was developed around Björk’s eighth album Biophilia, and each track of the album has its own set of ‘games’ (or songapp) – some encouraging kids to make music, others allowing them to play with interactive versions of the song that demonstrate scientific processes. For example, the songapp for ‘Virus’ explores how viruses work; and the songapp for ‘Crystalline’ explores the similarities between song structure and the way crystals form.