Standing in line outside the Leipzig Arena on an icy November evening, waiting to get into Icelandic singer Björk’s “Cornucopia” concert, I was brought back to my first winter living away from my immediate family. A colleague at the newspaper where I worked back then in Roanoke, Virginia, recommended and lent me the movie “Dancer in the Dark,” starring Björk.
Alone except for dinner with my generous boss and his family, before streaming was a thing, I popped the DVD in on Christmas Day. As daylight waned out the window, I watched the American Dream fall apart onscreen.
“Dancer in the Dark,” from the controversial Danish director Lars von Trier, was groundbreaking when it came out in the year 2000, as voices around the world trumpeted the triumph of capitalism. The movie was ahead of its time in tackling themes like intersectionality, as in the special challenges of a female immigrant escaping Communism just to live below the poverty line in the rural US in the 1960s. It used a handheld camera and grainy footage to capture its protagonist going blind and hurtling towards irreversible tragedy. Amid futile good intentions and desperate acts, with no chance for social mobility, she turns her reality into a musical in her head to be able to cope with it. “I’ve seen it all,” she sings, when a friend asks her, also in musical form, what she’ll miss once she loses her vision.
Cut to 2023, and the American Dream is now a distant memory to me and millions of others.
As an immigrant myself, I left the US, my second country, in 2010 to pursue the European Dream and I must say it’s been difficult to make it professionally here in Germany but not difficult to live with dignity, even when running out of money. I live a privileged life within a marginalized class. As global warming carves its trail of destruction, I’m lucky enough not to be a “climate refugee” for the foreseeable future.
In her “Cornucopia” arena tour that just wrapped up in Europe, Björk manages to once again criticize the world-devouring capitalist system within the prism of special challenges. This time, the challenges pertain to impending extinction.
Like her character in “Dancer in the Dark,” Björk turns a tragedy into a musical in “Cornucopia.” The iconic genre-bending artist is able to stare over the edge of the cliff with a stubborn hope as we all hurtle towards it.
The dream “Cornucopia” embodies is that of a sustainable future where humans, nature and technology coexist harmoniously.
“Cornucopia” as a concept is a symbol of abundance dating to antiquity. Björk’s reading of it, in concert form, appears to channel the abundance of human artistic expression and nature’s cycles of waxing and waning to immerse the audience in a realm where the digital and analog dance in seamless synchrony.
Reminiscent of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” fairy-like flute players surround Björk as she croons about the complexities of womanhood and our relationships in the world, dressed like a postmodern tree. A harp, xylosynth and custom-made instruments, like a four-part circle flute, also contribute to the otherworldly and at the same time nature-rooted sounds.
At some point, the singer gets into an acoustic hut and her face behind the microphone is digitally projected onto the sides of the stage. Most of the time, though, the scenery projections are set on a loop of floral and fungal blossoms as they pop into life.
At the Leipzig stop of the tour in November, Björk sang without a crack in her voice and without a pause until near the end. She then went for an outfit change and we were left with a huge projection of Greta Thunberg’s face dominating the stage. The voice of the young Swedish environmental activist sounded thunderous as it echoed across the arena, warning us that time is almost up but that we can still do something to save ourselves and the planet. As beloved as she is controversial and even hated locally and internationally, this German audience received Thunberg with cheers.
Björk herself has engaged in environmental activism for years, and is a fungi enthusiast.
She proudly displays on her Instagram page a trailer for the upcoming documentary “Fungi: The Web of Life,” which she narrates. In her post, she writes that “a long dormant dream of mine to narrate a nature documentary has come to fruition” and fangirls over Merlin Sheldrake, the renowned British biologist and fungi expert featured in the documentary.
Having inhabited the Earth and helped mold (pun intended) life on it for at least a billion years, fungi have a remarkable ability to adapt, as Björk points out. Maybe we can learn and borrow from them as we are called on to fight for our life as a species.
Nature-related discoveries and technology can be both apocalyptically destructive and transformationally life-enhancing. Björk still appears to believe in the power of the latter to lift us out of our darkest hour, choosing to dance through rather than around it.
Björk’s complete setlist at the “Cornucopia” Leipzig tour stop, 24 November 2023:
- Bird Sounds and Soundscapes
- The Gate
- Arisen My Senses
- Show Me Forgiveness
- Venus as a Boy
- Blissing Me
- Fossora / Atopos
- Features Creatures
- Pagan Poetry
- Sue Me
- Tabula Rasa
- A Message by Swedish Environmental Activist Greta Thunberg
- Future Forever
- Bird Sounds and Soundscapes
- Singer: @bjork
- Björk wood sculpture outfit:
- Dress: @kwkbykaykwok
- Headpieces: @james.t.merry
- Sphæra dress: @irisvanherpen
- Musicians’ outfits: @balmain
- Hair: @johnvialhair
- Musicians’ hair: @tomikono_wig
- Makeup: @isshehungry
- Styling: @eddagud
- Photos: @santiagraphy