Behind the scenes with The Living at MoMA’s Björk retrospective
The verdict on Björk’s multifaceted retrospective - which opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City 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, 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.’