Björk's Cornucopia: is this the singer's most ambitious show yet?

Two long pipes imported from Iceland pump air out into the audience while glowing platforms designed to resemble multiple icebergs sit mounted on a stage behind two curtains made of chain. This isn’t your ordinary show, which stands to reason considering Björk isn’t your ordinary artist.

In fact, nothing the Icelandic singer-songwriter has done in her singular, 26-year solo career has been confined to normalcy or the concept of boxes or borders, with Björk gaining an acclaimed reputation as the ultimate experimenter in not only music, but fashion and visuals. Perhaps that’s why when The Shed, the new theater located in New York City’s recently opened Hudson Yards complex, was looking for a marquee name to help open their state-of-the-art space, they commissioned an artist who can explore the room for all it’s worth.

Björk’s Cornucopia, a masterclass in exploration, is a show that’s being billed as her “most elaborate staged concert to date”, which plays with ideas of sound, lighting, costumes, video projection and set design. Created by Björk and directed by the acclaimed Argentinian film-maker Lucrecia Martel, making her theatrical debut, the production is concocted to be an immersive experience and is funneled straight from the singer’s unique psyche. It’s strung together using selections from her 2017 album Utopia, a bright record rooted in love and the bliss of romance. (She’s described it in the past as her “Tinder” album .)

From the tropics to the arctic, climate and weather have powerful direct and indirect impacts on human life. Weather extremes – such as heavy rains, floods, and disasters like Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans, USA in August 2005 – endanger health as well as destroy property and livelihoods. Approximately 600 000 deaths occurred worldwide as a result of weather-related natural disasters in the 1990s, some 95% of which took place in developing countries.

Björk’s Cornucopia at The Shed

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Photograph: Santiago Felipe

The overarching theme of Cornucopia, as well as the one that permeates most of Björk’s work is nature, with the majority of the imagery coming from flowers and fauna. (After all, to some she is chiefly remembered as the artist who wore a swan dress to the 2001 Academy Awards; the relic is currently displayed about 40 blocks uptown as part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Camp exhibition.) Supporting the visuals, natural sounds are employed, with one instrumentalist pouring water into a basin hooked to a microphone; the splashing liquid timed to the melody.

Björk explores her shimmering utopia with the help of an eclectic cast. Chief among them are the Hamrahlid, a buoyant Icelandic children’s choir who, in addition to supporting the singer in a variety of songs, also serve as Cornucopia’s opening act, belting out both covers from Bjork’s vast discography and traditional Icelandic songs.

There’s also Viibra, the moniker of an all-female flute septet that flanked the stage boasting flowing white costumes who, in succession, frequently jut their instruments in the air mid-song. The septet also supports Björk’s previously stated mission statement that Cornucopia is about females supporting each other. It’s an idea that’s brought to life when four members of the septet play a large, specially made circular flute that’s suspended from the air. (It requires the breath from all four to work.)

Björk’s Cornucopia at The Shed

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Photograph: Santiago Felipe

Fresh off his high-profile appearance at Coachella, serpentwithfeet also joined Björk on stage for Blissing Me, a remix of her Utopia track. The two brought the collaboration to life in a surprising R&B mashup, with Björk’s tender vocals juxtaposed to the thumping of serpentwithfeet’s LGBTQ love ballad. (Example lyrics: He reminds me of the love in me.)

Crop yields are expected to drop across the Pacific. The biggest decline is expected in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, where the staple sweet potato crop could halve by 2050.

With an artist so firmly rooted in the natural world, the performance also doubled as a dire warning on climate change. Halfway through the production, a message about the dangers of pulling out of the Paris climate accord is projected. As the show, which celebrates the beauty of the Earth nears its end, a powerful message courtesy the young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is presented.

“You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes,” she says via a video message, portions of which were greeted by cheers from the audience. “Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. If the solutions in this system are so impossible to find, then maybe we should change the system itself.”

  • Björk’s Cornucopia will be at The Shed in New York through 1 June 2019.