A performance of great strength, yet enormous vulnerability...

'Vulnicara', Björk’s ninth studio album, is a testing listen from subject to production. The artist, who thrives on working in the abstract and esoteric, has created a true masterpiece expressing the crushing nature of heartbreak. As listeners we are invited in to share her pain and reminded that this woman who is repeatedly hailed as “other worldly” is in fact a mere mortal. The narrative of this audio diary reveals her candid thoughts on the break down of her marriage with artist Matthew Barney. She walks you through the emotionally harrowing transition from the beginnings of the cracks in the relationship, the divide of her family and her own personal healing process. Each track cruelly summons the dull ache of loss in the depths of your stomach.

Coinciding with the her live performances, Björk is also exhibiting at the Somerset House enabling fans to interact with the latest in virtual reality technology, yet interestingly for her live performance she shies away from the technology she embraces in Björk Digital. The artist who once proclaimed as a teen that she detested classical music was now on stage surrounded by the magnificent Aurora Orchestra led by conductor, Andrew Gourlay, and throughout out the performance Björk articulates her heartbreak in string arrangements that come as a distraction from her sorrow.

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Björk flutters on stage like a UV moth adorned with the designs of James Merry as the strings notes guide you into melancholy for the opening track, ‘Stonemilker’. Dancing like a wooden ballerina she demands “emotional respect”. The combination of orchestral strings and Björk’s attire along with the night divided into two sets she has created a scene more familiar for an Opera singer than critically adored pop star.

The string version of ‘Lionsong’ reveals a softer tenderness to the original harsh textures added by Venezuelan co-producer, Arca. The rawness continues with ‘History Of Touches’, documenting the bitter sweet “last time” with a soon to be ex-lover. Björk’s voice sways in shushed gentleness as she lullabies the ghosts of her post-coital self and ex-husband.

The violins cut through abruptly, waking us from this lingering wistfulness. It’s like being plunged into cold water. In the chronological tale we are brought to the chapter of ‘Notget’ and the relationship is now over, “We carry the same wound / But have different cures”. She summons strength from the momentum of each bow stroke; each note dragging as her voice roaring louder than before with unhinged anger.

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The audiences applaud the art of devastation and after a short interval she returns, demonstrating time heals all. She is now head-to-toe in violent red - a phoenix rising from the ashes. Opening with the ‘Aurora’, the atmosphere shifts and the crowd go from solemn observers to rejoicing fans. The set continues into her past discography and even nods to her role in Dancer In The Dark directed by Lars Von Trier.

Unexpectedly, she dives back into the closely examined relationship with the track ‘Pagan Poetry’, written at a time when the couple were at a much simpler stage, revealing perhaps her wounds are very much still unhealed. She prompts the crowd to retort to her “I Love Him, I Love Him” they bellow back “She Loves Him, She Loves Him”. Either a misconstrued proclamation or confession the mass, it was an uncomfortable revelation to fall on the ears she sang to.

For the encore, the strings failed to recreate the manic nature of techno-infused ‘Pluto’, falling short of the bang the show deserved. With a graceful bow, she simply proclaimed, "Thank you for your interest, I'm really grateful”, and was gone. She left us feeling as if she had more to exclaim but perhaps had revealed too much.

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Words: Isis O'Regan
Photo Credit: Santiago Felipe

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