bjork’s black lake director on iceland, special effects and facing criticism
Meet Andrew Huang, the young American director behind the specially commissioned centrepiece of her MoMA show.
The much-hyped Bjork retrospective opened at New York's MoMA yesterday, so now it's to the public to decide what they make of an exhibition that the critics have been less than kind about. One man who is keen to defend the creations on show is Andrew Huang, video director of a newly commissioned 10-minute music video for Black Lake, a song that sees Bjork baring her soul over the break-up of her relationship with artist Matthew Barney. It's filmed in Icelandic caves owned by Bjork's brother and on lush green hills, but rubbing up against the natural elements are computer-generated effects of blue lava flows and human elevation. Now on his second collaboration with Bjork (he also directed Mutual Core), Huang is part of an impressive crew of directors who've created videos for her, including Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham and Eiko Ishioka. Here he explains what went into the film.
Why did you go back to her native Iceland to film?
The landscape in this film had to do with the fact that this is a coming home album for Bjork. She's almost intentionally avoided making anything about Iceland for many of her previous albums. Being that she just went through this devastating divorce, it was important to shoot it on her home soil. And walking through the landscape has always been a part of her music-writing process - she hikes when she writes her music - so we wanted to re-enact that and have her walk through Iceland while singing the song. The album is incredibly direct, so to film her anywhere else, with any other trappings felt too artificial. We had to do it in Iceland, in nature, with her barefoot.
How about all the special effects?
It was deceivingly a huge amount of work. Especially since liquids in CG are incredibly difficult. It's a long piece, a 10-minute film. It never felt like we were making a music video - it felt like we were making a film. It was edited in Adode Premier and a lot of it was composited in Flame, supported by Autodesk. We used Maya and Houdini too. It was important for me to make a very naked, raw piece, but it's Bjork, so there's got to be something heightened about this journey. And as a film-maker, I've got to give it a bit of spice. The idea is that when she walks through the landscape, she's weaving her music into the ground through her footsteps. The most emotional and powerful parts of the video all involved bare-bones choreography and nothing else. The film was choreographed by her friend Erna Omarsdottir.
The exhibition has come under some criticism. How does that feel when you're creatively involved?
It does break my heart a little bit because I've seen everybody weigh all the decisions very carefully, and there's been a mountain of thought put into it. And I think some of the reviews are a bit unfair. A museum is not really Bjork's medium and she's acknowledged that. This is really something she took a risk on to do. Klaus [Biesenbach, MoMA Director] is a dear friend of hers and I think Klaus was very considerate and cautious to make sure the most important thing in the exhibition is sound. A lot of people write off the audio guide, but it's precisely the audio guide that the most work was out into. Bjork's work is ultimately sound and yet people aren't listening. In fact the Black Lake room has the most top-of-the-line 4D immersive soundsystem provided by Marco Perry at Immersive Audio. It's incredible. The sound is wonderful in there. I agree with some things. It's impossible to encapsulate her work in a restrospective like this. It's so vast. It's no doubt she's deserving of an exhibition like this. It's just a question of how do you tackle it. It's also kind of known that the architecture of MoMA is a bit strange for showing work. Manhattan just doesn't have the real estate that the Tate has. It was a combination of architectural limitations and budget limitations. But people maybe need to listen more carefully.
And what about your film in particular?
There have also been some negative things said about the film. Someone has called it an ordinary music video. I don't know if you've seen any ordinary music videos lately! The whole purpose of what we wanted to do with Black Lake, knowing this was a new commission from MoMA and that it was a piece of her retrospective, was that it was 100% her. If it doesn't have some of the boom and the bang of her other videos, that's the point. The point was to strip everything away and do something so naked. She really wasn't acting for me on camera. When she's beating herself and crying, she really is beating herself and crying. If anything, I felt like Black Lake was a documentary piece, documenting these emotions she'd been bottling up for a year and a half. I feel incredibly privileged to have been there with her at 5am in the cold. I'm in a down jacket, covered head to toe in warm clothing and she's practically naked and it's freezing. She's fucking tough as rocks. The cave floor was like razors, or like walking on glass. It was really fucking sharp and she did it all night.
Text Stuart Brumfitt
Still from Black Lake, commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and directed by Andrew Thomas Huang