The Update: James Merry
The Update is our monthly feature where we check in with our favourite artists to talk side-projects, new endeavours and works-in-progress.
The artist and embroiderer James Merry discusses the visual aesthetic of Björk’s new album Utopia.
Why are you drawn to nature in your work?
I don’t think I will ever stop being amazed by the real alchemy of a seed germinating or of a bee turning nectar into honey. The mystery and the beauty of nature is endless – nature is queen.
Can you tell us about the sculpted face flowers you create for Björk?
The earlier ones took their inspiration from animal forms – like moths, jellyfish, corals – whereas these new pieces are heading into floral, anatomical territory; something orchid-like, alien, sexual. Björk’s headpieces usually stem from a specific set of references, ideas, textures or colours that she instinctively feels for each project. Over the years we’ve developed a really beautiful, telepathic shorthand. It’s the most special creative relationship and friendship I could ever imagine.
Can you tell us about the pieces in the video for the Björk single The Gate?
Some of the visual ideas Björk had were concerning kundalini – the twin snakes of energy winding up the body and opening the chakras as they go. The white headpiece was an attempt to mimic that sort of winding intertwined energy crowning the head, but crossed with a white lotus-type lightness, like some sort of alien orchid.
How does this project compare to your previous work for Björk?
I’ve been working with Björk for eight and a half years now and it’s safe to say no two days have ever been the same. Each project is so different from the one before. On Biophilia we went deep into scientific research for two years, app building and education. On Vulnicura we had the whole journey into virtual reality. Utopia is pushing off into a new trajectory.
What does ‘utopia’ mean to you?
Three years ago I moved to a tiny cabin on the side of a mountain in Iceland with my boyfriend and cat. Before that I had been living half in New York, and half out of a suitcase, always on the road. Subconsciously it was some attempt not only to define my own sort of ‘utopia’, but actually to build it. I can live closer to nature, grow my own food and downscale how many things I own and consume. It was the best thing I ever did.
Creatively, how do you react to the idea of utopia?
I don’t necessarily see utopia as some faultless glittering paradise, where everyone is floating around on rainbows. There’s room for ugliness and darkness in utopia. It’s less about perfection and more about how exactly the people inside that world function and relate to each other, with universal kindness and equality, with a respect for nature and a balance with the world that sustains them.
Is there an element of escapism in the project?
Quite the opposite actually. During times of particularly grim politics and imminent environmental catastrophe, the onus is on us to fantasise about how things could be better, to figure out what we are willing to sacrifice of our own comfort to achieve it. Speculating about utopia at times like these isn’t just important, it’s absolutely necessary. Those speculations can end up as realities, just by imagining it you can end up writing an escape route for how to push humanity forward out of this mess. You have to dream it first, then you can roll your sleeves up and start actually making it a reality.
Utopia is released 24 November via One Little Indian