Tue, Mar 15, 2005 - Page 16 News List

The surprisingly normal quirky songstress

A child prodigy who rose to fame with the Sugarcubes and who remains a celebrity as a solo singer,Bjork has made a career out of eccentricity. But you wouldn't know it from talking to her

By Liz Hoggard  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

It's impossible to be neutral about Bjork. Her critics certainly have plenty of ammunition. She eats roast puffin. She has a bonkers fashion sense and speaks in a mix of Nordic and Mockney.

The comedy show Spitting Image made a puppet of her. She had a very public fight at Bangkok's airport with a photographer who got too close to her son (images of Bjork banging the woman's head on the floor went round the world). Director Lars Von Trier even claimed she tried to eat her dress during filming of Dancer in the Dark.

But for many people, her arrival on the late-1980s British music scene (as part of the Icelandic punk band the Sugarcubes; then as a solo artist) was a breath of fresh air. People hadn't seen such an exotic, counterculture figure -- one who wore plaits for heaven's sake -- since the days of Lene Lovich.

Broadly speaking, women in rock are "babes" or "troubled," but the image of Bjork sprinting down the street in Spike Jonze's 1995 video, It's So Quiet (performing dance steps from a 1940s MGM musical) made it clear she has no time for sexual stereotypes. Neither model-thin, nor conventionally gorgeous, her stage charm rests on her sheer vitality.

Her only "weak" spot seemed to be her relationships with men. Her marriage to Sugarcubes bassist Thor Eldon ended when their son was only a baby (she was a single mother at 22). There were broken engagements to bad boys, Goldie and Tricky, but no one seemed to match her intellectually. Then, four years ago, she met the American multimedia artist Matthew Barney (best known for his surreal Cremaster Cycle of films).

Today, they live in an old house across the Hudson from Manhattan, with their baby daughter, Isadora. It seems a marriage of true eccentrics. Barney is a master provocateur (in 2003, he filled New York's Guggenheim with tapioca, petroleum jelly and beeswax) and he has worked as an athlete, model and medic -- so one senses conversation is never dull.

The couple guard their privacy fiercely, but for the first time they are working together. Bjork is writing a soundtrack for Barney's new film, Drawing Restraint 9, to premiere in June in Japan.

"It's really liberating to do a project that's not just about me," she enthuses. "I mean I love being a very personal singer-songwriter, but I also like being a scientist or explorer."

When I arrive for the interview, she is sprawled on the sofa, shoes off, eating tuna salad (no puffin today). She has flown in unexpectedly to talk about two new projects close to her heart.

First she is releasing a DVD of videos filmed for her latest album, Medulla, widely regarded as a return to form. It's full of images of Bjork dressed in a 50kg Alexander McQueen dress covered in tiny bells, and also as a hay bale (don't ask). Best of all is a spoof documentary following the making of Jonze's video for her single, Triumph of a Heart, an everyday tale of a woman and her commitment-phobic lover (played by a tabby cat called Nietzsche).

Of course she was working with Jonze and Michel Gondry long before they became Hollywood stars. We talk about the success of Gondry's film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

"Michel did a great work there. He gave Kate [Winslet], who's obviously such a huge spirit, such a vivacious lady, so much space. Usually when you see females in movies, they feel like they have these metallic structures around them, they are caged in by male energy. But she could be at her full volume without restrictions." A contrast, one senses with von Trier, who loves brutalizing his actresses.

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