Björk Digital at Somerset House

As I imagine was the same for most of the attendees of this exhibition, after hearing that this show would include works shown on VR headsets I immediately booked my ticket. I have been somewhat surprised by the lack of virtual reality experimentation in the art world so far, but this exhibition demonstrated why. The headsets were bulky and uncomfortable and often broke, brutally piercing the illusion of another dimension that these technologies were trying to create. In no way was I deceived by this technology as a portal into another ‘reality’, I felt continually aware that I was just watching footage on small screens really close to my face as I was swivelling around on my funky chair to maybe see something worthwhile. Mainly the content of these videos was not hugely interesting either, one of the works simply consisted of Björk reproducing in a lurid yellow dress at different locations not far from my body on a miserable looking beach.

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Still from ‘Stonemilker VR’

The well-celebrated highlight of the show was ‘Mouthmantra VR’ which was as entirely disturbing as I had imagined, still lacked a complete adoption of the technology. I could not understand why the footage had been so wildly tampered with, it was weird enough that you were digitally inside a model of Björk’s mouth without the footage being so drastically warped. This stylistic choice meant that half of the virtual space was left empty and grey with only a trace of some poorly disguised digital video stitching to stimulate the mind. For ‘Notget VR’ viewers were led to headsets that allowed you the ability to move in the space, this was viciously disrupted by the fact that the vive headsets were attached above by short amounts of metal wire, so every now and again you would be tugged back into reality by these restrictive shackles.

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Still from ‘Mouthmantra VR’

After watching the 4 VR videos and a dual screen presentation of Björk’s ‘Black Lake’ music video, you are led into a final room that contains a show reel of all of Björk’s music videos. I sat in this room for over two hours hoping to find some compensation for the £12.50 that it cost me to endure the entirety of Björk’s visual discography, but unfortunately I found nothing but a fresh bout of annoyance with the start of each video. In comparison with The Infinite Mix, the audio-visual show on just a few doors down from Somerset house, Björk digital fell short. The rooms that the headsets were placed in felt weirdly run down and dystopian, much like the old vinyl factory setting of the Infinite Mix but unlike Björk digital the work in Infinite Mix was seamless in it’s content and presentation. So perhaps looking at this show we can conclude that VR is not quite at the stage where we can really experience new realities, instead we should focus on using well-developed processes to a more effective degree, such as the 3D video technologies used in Cyprien Gaillard’s ‘Nightlife’.

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Installation view

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