Björk‘s latest album, Vulnicura, was such a personal experience that she compared it to opening herself up — literally — in a new interview with The New York Times. “You feel like you’re having open-heart surgery, with knives sticking in, so that everything is out, and you have this urgency and immediacy,” she said. Regarding the overwhelming resolution she felt to make the album, she said, “You feel like you belong to another power. It’s not yours. It’s like the universal heartbreak energy current…that is taking you hostage.”
The singer explained that the album was largely influenced by her separation with her romantic partner, artist Matthew Barney — with whom she has a daughter — and that the album’s first six songs are a chronological account of the breakup. “Usually, I don’t really talk about my private life, but with this album there’s no two ways about what it is,” she said. “I separated during this album, ended a 13-year relationship, and it’s probably the toughest thing I’ve done.” Barney declined to comment for the Times.
The experience, she said, inspired a fight-or-flight instinct within her. “Weirdly, I think the survivalist in me kicked in,” she said. “When you’re going through the most difficult things emotionally, the scientist kicks in to try to make sense of it all. Part of me wants just to hide it, and part of me is going, ‘No — this could be a document of the heartbreak of the species, and could even be helpful to someone.”
But before the album could come out, she experienced another kind of heartbreak when Vulnicura leaked online. So her instincts told her to put it online immediately — much to the chagrin of her label. “All the record companies around the world were just stubborn about keeping to the plan,” she said. “I’m not just, ‘Break the rules to break the rules,’ but it had a strange smell to it. The chances people were going to wait a month and a half were zero.” Ultimately, she decided that, despite the protests of her business partners, she should release the album because of its emotional content.
Next up for the singer, other than a run of intermittent New York dates, is her long-in-the-works exhibition at the city’s Museum of Modern Art. The art institution had approached Björk with the idea of the exhibition back in 2000, but she didn’t agree to it until 2012, telling a curator that she saw herself as a musician and not a visual artist.
Björk said she took many efforts to make the experience unique. Only 100 visitors will be allowed in at a time, wearing headphones, and will walk through rooms focusing on each of the singer’s adult solo albums, while looking at the costumes and videos that surrounded each period and listening to audio commentary written by her occasional collaborator, poet and novelist Sjon. Björk recorded some of the narration herself along with Icelandic director and actress, Margrét Vilhjálmsdóttir. Björk described the whole experience as somewhat a “cacophony of sound.”