FEATURE: In a Beautiful, Magical World… Björk's Cornucopia




In a Beautiful, Magical World…

IN THIS PHOTO: Björk in her new show, Cornucopia, at New York’s The Shed on 9th May, 2019/PHOTO CREDIT: Santiago Felipe/Getty Images

Björk's Cornucopia


SOME artists put on a very ordinary...


and routine live show, but there are some that go the whole hog and create a real extravaganza! I do feel that it is hard to create a live performance that keeps the songs relatively natural whilst building something special around them. I am never a fan of the somewhat predictable and set-free set but, if you are an artist of a certain genre, there are going to be restrictions and barriers. If you are someone whose music evokes big scenes, dreams and extremes then the live show has to mirror that to an extent. In the case of Björk, one can never accuse of her of lacking energy, eye-catching wonder and a real sense of the fantastical. I am not hovering into nostalgic territory but I recall her first two albums, Debut (1993) and Post (1995), and being blown away but this unique and incredibly powerful artists. Her songs, whether talking about love, the natural world or something else, were so different to everything out there and delivered by a singer whose tones, emotions and colours were vastly different. Björk’s accent and the way she expresses songs gets into the heart and pushes the imagination to new realms. I have never seen Björk perform but I have seen videos of her live performances and read plenty of reviews.

Each of her albums embodies different themes and sounds – none of her records lack character and ample cinema. Translating that to the stage is no mean feat and there is always this (invisible) benchmark that she has to hit. One feels she views the stage as a chance to take her songs to new levels. Whether employing multimedia formats or bringing characters and beguiling sets to her shows; a Björk show is like stepping into a very strange, magical and memorable world. In a recently-opened venue, The Shed, Björk produced this original, bold and hugely memorable experience that touched on climate change and femininity. Many might read words like ‘climate change’ when linked with a concert and wonder how the two engage. Others might think that Björk would preach and provide something quite angered. Instead, her show/set balances a sense of foreboding with beauty and something quite sublime. I will end the piece by bringing in a review of Conrnucopia but, as The Guardian herald, Björk has created (perhaps) her most ambitious and astonishing show to date:

Created by Björk and directed by the acclaimed Argentinian film-maker Lucrecia Martel, making her theatrical debut, the production is concocted to be an immersive experience and is funneled straight from the singer’s unique psyche. It’s strung together using selections from her 2017 album Utopia, a bright record rooted in love and the bliss of romance. (She’s described it in the past as her “Tinder” album.)


IN THIS PHOTO: Björk in her new show, Cornucopia, at New York’s The Shed on 9th May, 2019/PHOTO CREDIT: Santiago Felipe/Getty Images

The overarching theme of Cornucopia, as well as the one that permeates most of Björk’s work is nature, with the majority of the imagery coming from flowers and fauna. (After all, to some she is chiefly remembered as the artist who wore a swan dress to the 2001 Academy Awards; the relic is currently displayed about 40 blocks uptown as part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Camp exhibition.) Supporting the visuals, natural sounds are employed, with one instrumentalist pouring water into a basin hooked to a microphone; the splashing liquid timed to the melody.

With an artist so firmly rooted in the natural world, the performance also doubled as a dire warning on climate change. Halfway through the production, a message about the dangers of pulling out of the Paris climate accord is projected. As the show, which celebrates the beauty of the Earth nears its end, a powerful message courtesy the young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is presented”.

At a time – we are told all the time; it has become more pronounced – when climate change is in the news and there are dire predictions, I think more artists will be talking about it through their music; bringing it into their shows and trying to get across a very serious and pressing message: if we abandon and mistreat the natural world then we are creating a very bleak future for the planet.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Cornucopia’s director, Lucrecia Martel/PHOTO CREDIT: Félix Busso

I would have killed to be there to see Björk at The Shed and it seems like others will follow in her wake. Not that they can match the scope and spectacular of her show; more that the natural world and themes around femininity will take more of a role. It has been a while since I (have) attended a gig that really blew my mind in terms of its concept and sets. Björk has always moved and amazed but it seems, at a very tense and challenging time for humanity, bringing climate change and the natural world into a show is apt and eye-opening. Few would have come away from the performance without learning something and being shocked; awed by the beauty and transfixed by all the different colours, characters and interactions. I do hope that there is an adaption in London or people elsewhere get to see the show – or that it comes to YouTube or makes its way onto DVD. In any case, the fact Björk has created this sensational show is no shock to me. Rolling Stone, in this review from yesterday (10th May), provided their impressions:

“…The stage was curtained at various points with thread walls that functioned both as translucent scrim and projection screen. When the lights dropped, trumpeters heralded the start from within the crowd, then moved to join the Hamrahlíð choir, assembled in front of the stage. They performed a handsome selection of a cappella pieces, including Björk’s “Sonnets/ Unrealities XI” (from Medúlla) and “Cosmogony” (from Biophilia), evoking by turns the choral work of Arvo Pärt and Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares. At points, their voices were swallowed by the space, which showed iffy acoustics during the course of the evening.

Fans seeking more traditional pop exchanges — the performing of signature hits to trigger push-button sing-alongs — may have been disappointed. But most longtime Björk followers have learned to expect the unusual. “Venus as a Boy” and “Isobel” were abstracted in ways that made them difficult to recognize, in the spirit of latter-day Dylan, although material from 2017’s Utopia hewed closer to album arrangements. (A duet with serpentwithfeet on the remix of “Blissing Me” was one of the show’s high points.) Dwarfed by the giant projections, Björk was often lost amongst them but for when she appeared on-screen as a wildly animated warrior-sprite, or when she stepped into the front rows to sing on a stage extension. This seemed to be part of the point: the human being alternately empowered and subsumed by technology”.



The show started on 6th May and it is not just the one performance: Cornucopia runs through until 1st June and you know there will be demand to take it on the road and travel it abroad! That Rolling Stone review includes the set list and, if you have a look around, you can see other glowing reviews. I wanted to mention the show and Björk’s latest masterpiece as it raises important discussions regarding climate change and what we are doing. She manages to balance political messages and warnings with something gorgeous and sense-altering. Let’s hope that Cornucopia not only opens eyes in the U.S. regarding global warming – President Donald Trump is blind and ignorant regarding dangers facing us – and other artists take action.  

 IN THIS PHOTO: Björk in her new show, Cornucopia, at New York’s The Shed on 9th May, 2019/PHOTO CREDIT: Santiago Felipe/Getty Images

I am not suggesting that ever artist makes sure they bring up the dangers of climate change in their shows but that is also not to say it should be overlooked. They might not be able to match Björk’s grandeur and sense of wonder but I do hope that it sets a sort of trend. It is clear that, visually and thematically, she has made an impression and will change some minds. For those who love Björk’s 2017 album, Utopia, there is good news – as this Rolling Stone article explains:

Björk transcends shape and form in the stunning new video for “Tabula Rasa,” a track off her 2017 album Utopia. The clip was directed by digital artist Tobias Gremmler, who places Björk’s face onto a shape-shifting figure that sprouts petals and fronds as it twists and billows through the air. It’s an uncanny and arresting sight, but beautiful as well, especially when the theme of metamorphosis is paired with Björk’s lyrics, “Clean plate, tabula rasa for my children/Clean plate, not repeating the fuck-ups of the fathers”.

It is a busy time for the Icelandic innovator and, who knows, maybe there will be a new album coming up soon! You can never predict what she will do next and just how spectacular the results will be. Not that many people reading this will get the chance to see Cornucopia in New York but, if it does transfer to other parts of the U.S. and the U.K., make sure you get along. She has, once more, raised the bar of what a live show can be and what it can do to someone. Cornucopia does contains messages of stark prediction and compel change but the abiding takeaway is one of sheer beauty and beguile. There are fireworks, flutists and stop-motion flowers. Maybe strange in anyone else’s show but, in the world of Björk, it is the case that…