Bjork's new epic of love, machines, humans and nature: "The Gate"
Few contemporary artists pursue "alternative" states of being and emotion more intensely than Bjork, Iceland's great musical icon. Bjork sees her mission as being to "build bridges between the human things we do everyday, and technology" - and she thinks this is an urgent task:
We can be certain that the military, the B corporate world, the government and so on are going to use tech and I feel it is important that the artist helps define it and mould it. Because who else is going to put humanity and soul into it?
Her new work, "The Gate" (embedded above) has been made in collaboration with video artist Andrew Thomas Huang (background). Bjork has described the forthcoming album, Utopia (out in November), as the "heaven" to the preceding album Vulnicura's "hell".
"The Gate" is an astounding vision - "like a fashion show from 2067", said one commentator - with Bjork literally opening the contents of her digital heart to an android lover, surrounded by mutating, half-natural, half-mechanical objects.
But those who have been observing Bjork's hinterland may have a deeper explanation to hand for the strangeness of this video.
A few years ago, Björk began corresponding with a philosopher whose books she admired. “hi timothy,” her first message to him began. “i wanted to write this letter for a long time.” She was trying to give a name to her own singular genre, to label her work for posterity before the critics did. She asked him to help define the nature of her art – “not only to define it for me, but also for all my friends, and a generation actually.”
It turned out the philosopher, Timothy Morton, was a fan of Björk. Her music, he told her, had been “a very deep influence on my way of thinking and life in general”. The sense of eerie intimacy with other species, the fusion of moods in her songs and videos – tenderness and horror, weirdness and joy – “is the feeling of ecological awareness”, he said.
Morton’s own work is about the implications of this strange awareness – the knowledge of our interdependence with other beings – which he believes undermines long-held assumptions about the separation between humanity and nature. For him, this is the defining characteristic of our times, and it is compelling us to change our “core ideas of what it means to exist, what Earth is, what society is”.
...Part of what makes Morton popular are his attacks on settled ways of thinking. His most frequently cited book, Ecology Without Nature, says we need to scrap the whole concept of “nature”. He argues that a distinctive feature of our world is the presence of ginormous things he calls “hyperobjects” – such as global warming or the internet – that we tend to think of as abstract ideas because we can’t get our heads around them, but that are nevertheless as real as hammers.
Morton believes all beings are interdependent, and speculates that everything in the universe has a kind of consciousness, from algae and boulders to knives and forks. He asserts that human beings are cyborgs of a kind, since we are made up of all sorts of non-human components; he likes to point out that the very stuff that supposedly makes us us – our DNA – contains a significant amount of genetic material from viruses. He says that we’re already ruled by a primitive artificial intelligence: industrial capitalism. At the same time, he believes that there are some “weird experiential chemicals” in consumerism that will help humanity prevent a full-blown ecological crisis.
And if that last paragraph doesn't help explain what's going on in a modern Bjork video, nothing will. (But perhaps this 50 minute interview will also help):