Behind the scenes with The Living at MoMA’s Björk retrospective

Modern art for wallpaper
The showpiece of Björk’s multifaceted retrospective at New York's Museum of Modern Art is an immersive audio and video installation entitled 'Black Lake'. Courtesy of The Living
(Image credit: Justin Lui)

The verdict on Björk (opens in new tab)’s multifaceted retrospective - which opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City (opens in new tab) last Saturday - might still be out, but there is one aspect of the exhibition that is being unanimously well received. The showpiece of the retrospective is an immersive audio and video installation entitled ’Black Lake’.

Commissioned by the museum and designed by The Living (opens in new tab), the architecture practice that won MoMA PS1’s Young Architect’s Program in 2014, the installation is a physical incarnation of the eponymous song which features on Björk’s latest album, Vulnicura.

Made up of an organic matrix of black felt cones, ’Black Lake’ is a sensual theatre-like environment that takes over the MoMA’s atrium. It’s the first time that the atrium space has ever been given over for an exhibition’s sake. The luscious installation incorporates two projection screens and conceals 44 loud speakers, making it the ideal acoustic setting to experience Black Lake’s spiralling orchestration and haunting video.

’The brief was to create an immersive physical environment for [the song],’ said David Benjamin, director of The Living, who worked with Björk and the video’s director Andrew Thomas Huang to create the installation. ’If you scan across the room from north to south, each inch corresponds to one second of the song. We created this effect by taking a spectral analysis of the song, projecting it onto the walls and the ceiling, and then using this map to dial in the size and location of each cone.’

Björk’s dark and despairing creation is a moving expression of personal heartbreak, and the song’s complexity is reflected in the 6,000 or more cones that adorn the walls of the cavernous space. Each cone was digitally designed and then stitched and assembled by hand.

’We honed in on the cone shape based on its ability to control sound and on the way we could use it to generate a large undulating landscape from small cells,’ explains Benjamin. ’We wanted to use a tactile, organic material with good acoustic-dampening properties, and we found that felt was perfect. In the end, the room is so dead that it makes you feel your own pulsing life. It conveys the right atmosphere and mood for the song.’

Work in progress

Commissioned by the museum and designed by The Living, the architecture practice that won MoMA PS1’s Young Architect’s Program in 2014, the installation is meant to physically reflect eponymous song from Björk’s latest album. Courtesy of The Living

(Image credit: Ray Wang)

Assembling for the show

A matrix of black felt cones, each digitally designed before being stitched and assembled by hand, form the main body of the cavernous space, along with two projection screens and 44 concealed loud speakers. Courtesy of The Living

(Image credit: Justin Lui)

Seems like mirror image

'We honed in on the cone shape based on its ability to control sound and on the way we could use it to generate a large undulating landscape from small cells,' explains David Benjamin, director of The Living. Courtesy of The Living

(Image credit: Ray Wang)

Sound is an important factor for exhibition

The brief was to create an immersive physical environment for the song, Björk’s dark and despairing expression of personal heartbreak. Courtesy of The Living

(Image credit: Justin Lui)

Black wallpaper on the show

Rendering of the 'Black Lake'.

(Image credit: Image courtesy of The Living)

Its look like a mini screen

According to the director of The Living the installation makes the room 'so dead that it makes you feel your own pulsing life. It conveys the right atmosphere and mood for the song.'

(Image credit: Image courtesy of The Living)

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Pei-Ru Keh is the US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru has held various titles at Wallpaper* since she joined in 2007. She currently reports on design, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru has taken a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars and actively seeks out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.