It’s hard to describe exactly how exciting this exhibition was but I’m going to try. For a start I’d never been inside Somerset House and it’s an awesome building. Each video in the exhibition was in a different room and the set up seemed to vary with each video. Director Andrew Thomas Huang’s “Black Lake” was the first film and at 10 mins plus was the longest.
The director had produced two visual channels designed to be played simultaneously opposite one another over the song, which was beautifully engineered to come out of the 32 speakers in the room (installed lovingly by Bowers & Wilkins, premium suppliers of loudpseakers).
After this we moved on to each of the four VR pieces in turn. The first of these was possibly the most striking, “Stonemilker” (Huang again).
This piece used the combination of the stark Icelandic landscape and the arrangement of several Björks in luminous yellow dresses to captivate the viewer. This video used Samsung Gear VR headsets and (and B&W headphones) and the effect was like standing there on the beach with Björk signing especially for you, the raw expressions of grief in the song made me want to give her a hug! For this video and the next two we were seated on swivelling bar stools which made looking around us really easy.
From there we moved on to “Mouth Mantra” (for the Samsung Gear VR, directed by Jesse Kanda).
This was gloriously chaotic and disorientating, being inside a churning and swirling vortex of mouth and snarling teeth. The only time the effect didn’t work was when we moved outside of the singer’s mouth and there was only one focus on Björk’s face, in the whole 360 degree view. This focus did come across as being the largest “cinema” screen I had ever seen though, with a minimal auditorium surrounding it. After seeing film on that scale there really is no way back from VR, it’s so all-encompassing and immersive that viewing video and media on traditional screens is just not going to be able to compete for long.
The final seated video was “Quicksand” (Samsung Gear VR) which was an augmented recording of a live performance and although there were times where the focus was in one area of the 360 canvas, the feeling of being sucked up into the cosmos was really exhilarating, not to mention the graphics being stunningly beautiful.
The last video of all was “Notget” (directed by Warren du Prees and Nick Thornton Jones) and we were to stand to experience the full HTC Vive set up. The video began with us dancing with a petit silhouetted figure of Björk in a striking head dress who then evolved into a multi-coloured, shimmering figure, complete with sparks, that continued to grow until it was the viewer who was dwarfed by the singer.
The final room was cycling through Björk’s much acclaimed earlier videos directed by people such as Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze and Stéphane Sednaoui a selection of my favourites you can view here.