Björk can’t get enough of museums. The Icelandic songstress is set to sing about zombie snails, and more from her acclaimed Biophilia album, at New York’s Hall of Science next month. And she’s revealed that she’s in discussions with other museums around the world to take the show to them too.
Biophilia’s first airing came at last summer’s Manchester International Festival. That residency took place in an apt venue – Lower Campfield Market Hall in the post-industrial Castlefield district, a building that now serves as Manchester Museum of Science and Industry’s Air and Space Gallery.
Those nights at the museum gave Björk a taste for more. "I went around and looked at a lot of venues. But this one [New York’s Hall of Science] was the most interesting," she explains in between rehearsals for the New York shows. "Because of the educational angle of Biophilia we really needed to collaborate on the science side of things. We take care of the musicology and the music teaching."
The 46-year-old Reykjavik-born musician will play six shows at the museum next month. "The Great Hall – which is a tower of blue glass built for the World’s Fair – hasn’t really been used for concerts, which is a bit of a mystery," she ponders. Indeed, the Hall of Science is one of the only living legacies on the site of the 1964-65 Fair at Flushing Meadow Corona Park in Queens. The Fair became infamous for its wildly optimistic, corporate-sponsored vision of a futuristic America. The park boasted a predictable excess of phallic towers, plus elephantine Technicolor dioramas and Jetsons-style robotic car rides through fantastical worlds overflowing with advanced household gadgets.
Almost all of those bristling Mad Men-era structures have sadly succumbed to the wrecking ball, but the Hall of Science remains to this day. The fairground’s two most phallic objects of all – Nasa’s Mercury and Gemini space rockets – are parked up forever in the lot in front of the building. But what is it about performing Biophilia in museums that appeals to Björk ? "Well, since I started writing this album three and a half years ago, it always had an educational, a David Attenborough, a science, a natural history museum angle to it." Indeed, that album itself is a rigorous, scientific affair. Listening to its songs in suitably scientific surroundings makes sense. Says Björk : "The core of it [Biophilia] is comparing structures in nature with musical structures. So these buildings seemed a natural home."
The sensory pleasure of a meal or a kiss can be heightened by the building in which you enjoy them. And relevant architecture can add much to a gig too. Björk isn’t the first bookish artist to play at a museum. The Strokes played at The Natural History Museum in 2006 and Blur began their 2009 comeback tour at the East Anglian Railway Museum. In September last year, the Birmingham Laptop Ensemble performed avant-garde electronica in the Victorian civic splendour of the city’s Museum & Art Gallery.
For Björk, the Hall Of Science run next month is just the start of what could turn into a worldwide odyssey. Interested museums in all four corners of the globe had better get in touch soon though – as she explains : "We are talking to natural history museums, science museums and technological museums around the world - and will probably end up collaborating with those that are most enthusiastic about the educational program.’
That education programme is clearly close to the singer’s heart. She jokes : "The one in Iceland went so well that the city [of Reykjavik] offered to put it on its curriculum for middle school pupils for the next three years !"
Björk, Hall of Science, New York (bjork.com) 3 to 18 February