TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Friday, December 12, 2008

Björk, The Canvas of a Modern Viking

Björk, a blank canvas, mutates as needed.

Last night I just happened to catch the movie "Dancer in the Dark" on cable. I missed the beginning, had never heard of it or of it's star, the famous Björk. Shows how in tune I am with what's going on in the world...

The story is about an immigrant woman who loves music and theater and is losing her sight. Set in 1946 Washington State, Selma (Björk), struggles with poverty and saves her pennies for a surgery which can save her son from the same fate she faces. A friend steals her money, she kills him and ends up convicted for murder. Tears flowed down my face at the end, when she is hung, one more testament to me, against the death penalty.

"Dancer in the Dark" and Björk both captured me with the sadness, gentleness and rhythm of the story, the music and the filming. I suppose it can be described as a musical as the plot takes periodic breaks for Björk's voice and accompanying choreography, wonderful rhythms of stomping and industrial noise. Here is a clip:

The movie is already eight years old, so it's old news to most out there. But, I liked it and after it finished, I wanted to find out more about Björk.

Ha! She's Icelandic! My Gislason roots got all warm and fuzzy. I watched a bunch of her songs on YouTube and read a bit about her. I ended up with mixed feelings about her work. Many of her videos had special effects that didn't do much for me. The photo below is shows a still from one of them where these wormy, inky blobs travel around her face, out of her eyes, into her nose, around and around.... The black ink from the aliens on X-Files were more convincing....

Many of the videos also had animation and techno stuff that didn't appeal to me at all. Maybe it's a generation gap. But, what drew me to her in the movie, that face that lit up, transforming plainness into beauty and sensuality, was replaced instead with images that spoke to me of self-annihilation and futility. I kept reading until I finally understood that Björk is the embodiment of the modern Viking. She destroys preconceptions, replacing them with potential transformations into the new.

Politically active, Björk speaks loudly for the environment, Tibetan independence and other social justice issues. Once the Vikings settled in Iceland, they quickly became one of the most democratic societies of their time. The harsh land could not support the population unless they worked under strict guidelines of cooperation. Months of cold darkness encouraged the development of crafts, literature and music. Icelanders also resisted Christianity for a long time, until they were finally forced to hide their runes and hide their pagan ways.

I don't know what Björk believes, but I now see her a nymph or a blank canvas that reflects both nature and humanity. Her Slavic features allow her to take on the guileless simplicity of innocence, of childhood, of the elf or imp. Or, she morphs into the vamp, the seductress, the praying mantis who will eat its mate. Björk's music seems to call to the soul, while her body becomes a canvas, one element within a larger picture of transformational art. She says on her website that she photographs herself so that a visual tone can help the viewer understand her music.

The photos in this post are all from Björk's website and give a small sampling of her many persona:

What an inspiration for fiber artists and costume designers! Each photo achieves a mood and message through the textures, colors and ornamentation by the costume. I ended my research feeling deep respect for this woman and look forward to her future evolutions.

I did find one video that I liked that seemed to represent Björk, Iceland and all this creative energy moving purposefully over a volcanic land. In "Who Is It?" Björk becomes an ornament, a timely performance for this Christmas season!



  1. You are right, Björk is an amazing personality in art. Did you find her first appearances way back with Sugarcubes?
    The band was created in 1986. It was obvious to me already then that she is someone special.

  2. ...oh, yes, and thank you so much for your encouraging comment on my dolls!

  3. Thankyou Rayela for posting this article, a great read. Glad you enjoyed the flick, 'The Princess Of Iceland' is an awesome artist indeed! Her live performance at Melbourne's 'BigDayOut' music festival was superb. The pics you've posted are beautiful:))
    Hugs, Sarah.

  4. I remember her wearing the Swan at the Oscars....



“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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