Hand embroiderer James Merry and 3D designer Neri Oxman are just two of the team behind a series of otherworldly and kakfaesque headpieces produced alongside Björk for her most recent album Vulnicura, recent tour and upcoming major exhibition Björk Digital at Somerset House. Together the team weaves traditional techniques and cutting-edge technology.
Working out of a small cabin on a lake 15 minutes outside of Reykjavík, James Merry works across traditional and digital means to bring his ornate pieces to life. Crafted from fine lace, wire and pearls the delicate pieces have been seen on stage and throughout Björk’s recent music videos. Family, the moving album cover, sees his creations come to life digitally.
The milieu of magnificent pieces tie into Björk’s thematic oeuvre seen especially in her most recently albums Biophilia (2011) concerned with the interrelationships between nature, music and technology, and Vulnicura (2015) a heartbreak album concerned with transformation and repair.
“The headpieces I have been making in collaboration with Björk have definitely been tapping into that state of metamorphosis – human features turning into animal forms, traditional craft vs techno materials, nature seen through a futuristic lens,” James says.
While many of the headpieces and costumes are constructed and embroidered by hand, James and Björk have also enlisted the expertise of MIT’s Mediated Matter Lab for digital visualisation and 3D Printing. “The process is always a close collaboration between us – shared ideas and references will stew for a while, followed by a lot of back and forth and experimentation to get the mood of the piece just right.”
Architect and 3D designer Neri Oxman who heads up the Mediated Matter Lab as a professor and researcher as an associate professor at the MIT Media Lab, worked closely on the project, producing a series of masks based on the fibrous tissue of a skinless wound, Rottlace. “The designs are informed by the geometrical and material logics that underlie the human musculoskeletal system; specifically, the complex structure of muscles, connective tissues, tendons, and ligaments that modulate the human voice,” she explains.
Moulded and modified to the curvature and structure of Björk’s face, obtained through 3D-scanning and data-plotting, the Rottlace series of masks was 3D-printed by Stratasys, also responsible for the famous Pangolin dress. "With Rottlace, we designed the mask as a synthetic ‘whole without parts’,” says the team.
“I couldn’t really imagine these headpieces existing outside of Björk’s world. The creative drive behind all of them has been to try and help express part of a specific character she has made – each one has had to solve its own technical riddle in that sense,” explains James. Many of his creations will be displayed along with the offerings of Neri Oxman and the MIT Mediated Matter Group, Stratasys and the virtual reality work of Björk coteries of designers, artists and programmers at her major digital exhibition at Somerset House, Björk Digital, this September.