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The musician-artist and author-scientist discuss how to live in right relationship to the land

Björk: Hello Robin!

 

Robin Wall Kimmerer: Hello! Nice to meet you.

 

Björk: Oh I just have to say, I have been enjoying your books so much. I listened to them actually twice now on audiobook, with your beautiful voice reading them. Thank you very much.

 

Robin Wall Kimmerer: Oh, I’m glad you listened. You know, it was really fun to record them. They had said, oh well, we’ll get a really good narrator for your books, and I thought, I want to do it. Who else could pronounce both Potawatomi words and botanical Latin, you know?

 

Jennifer Krasinski: Welcome to  Artists on Writers | Writers on Artists, a co-production of Artforum and_ Bookforum_magazines. Each month, this series brings together luminaries in the fields of art and literature for free form, intimate conversations, about the subjects that they wish to talk about. I’m Jennifer Krasinski, the magazines digital editorial director. And I’d like to welcome you to today’s conversation between musician–artist Björk and author–scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer. During their talk, Björk and Robin graze many wonderful subjects. They talk about how language connects or disconnects us from the natural world. They relate some of the consequences, both personal and global, of living apart from nature. They also share what it means in this hour of transient society to feel at home, and in right relationship to the land. When Björk first introduced herself to all of us on the call, she described herself as, and I quote, “A nature nerd from Iceland.” But that’s, of course, not all she is. She is a singer whose voice is unlike any other, and a songwriter whose music has traversed so many genres that her music has essentially become a genre unto itself. She is that rarest of creators, truly multidisciplinary—from writing, arranging and producing her expansive catalog to her collaborations with scientists, filmmakers, writers, inventors, musicians and instrument makers. Björk has redefined what it means to live as an artist. Her most recent record “Fossora” is her tenth and has been receiving wide acclaim since its release this past September. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, decorated professor and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She is the author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants as well as Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. She is a SUNY distinguished teaching professor of environmental biology and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, whose mission is to create programs which draw on the wisdom of both indigenous and scientific knowledge for the shared goals of sustainability. And just a few days before Robin and Björk spoke, Robin was named a MacArthur Fellow. Before their conversation begins, both Artforum and Bookforum wish to thank our sponsor for this episode, The New York Historical Society, where visitors can experience untold American stories through groundbreaking exhibitions, outstanding collections, immersive films and thought-provoking conversations. Visit NY History.org for more information. And now please enjoy the conversation between Björk and Robin Wall Kimmerer.

 

Björk: I was wondering if it would be a good icebreaker if I would just sort of start asking you the questions that I—I don’t know. I sent you an email a couple of weeks ago. Does that sound like a good beginning?

 

RWK: Let’s do that. Yeah, let’s do that.Oh, and I think we’re probably cut from the same cloth, in terms of, you know, being— I, anyway, am a committed introvert, so this will be nice just to have a intimate conversation to begin.

 

B: Yes, and we’re probably both more used to being interviewed than being the interviewee. So yeah. So I wanted to first just point out that we have probably a similar cusp of the academic versus nature or folklore, even though we are obviously very, very, very different, me and you. I studied music for ten years, and then around, when touchscreens happened, I tried to make musicology for children that was more connected to natural structures. But at the same time, I’ve always written all my melodies hiking outside and purposely unaware of which notes I’m singing. This seems to align well with your wonderful tale of the three sisters, how your tribe had their pockets full of seeds, and then they spread organically over the hills. And that wonderful story when you say that Columbus and those guys came, and just because agriculture wasn’t in straight lines, they didn’t think it was agriculture. And then also, I’m curious also in your book on the same topic, you mentioned how science has a habit of dissing female botanists. And yeah, I understand the cusp of this binary very well. And I feel both of us have made it into our life’s work to sew it together.

 

RWK: Beautifully said. Yeah. You know, in ecological sciences, we call that meeting place between communities, like between a forest and a meadow or a meadow and a wetland, you know, an ecotone. It’s this place where two different worlds meet. And, you know, as a botanist, I love those places because they’re so diverse. They have elements of each, but they also have things that only live there. They’re full of birds, they’re full of fruit. You know, it’s so productive at the edges. So those edges, as you say, between the natural world and the built environment, between matter and spirit, I find to be really productive, and for a long time—maybe you felt this way, too, I’d love to know—that inhabiting those marginal areas can make you feel like you don’t belong either place. But then you realize you belong right there. You belong there, as you said, trying to stitch them together. And that’s certainly the reality for me in working at the intersection of Indigenous knowledge and Western scientific knowledge as well.

B: Yeah, I think that’s so interesting. And you mentioned that so many times in your books. It’s very, very inspiring. Yeah, in Iceland, we’re still very connected to nature, I think. And we didn’t, I think we’re like total animists. We’re told stories about how every lava rock and cliff is a troll that got hardened in the sun. Like they are nocturnal and cannot stand the daylight as they become mountains if they haven’t entered their caves by sunrise. This resonated very hard for me when you talked about how in your original language you treat nouns differently than the English. Like for example, when you say, “to be a bay,” that you are a bay, or “to be a Saturday,” instead of just “bay “or “Saturday.” It seems like there is again a very seamless connection there.

RWK: Yes. And I love the way that language reminds us of that animacy of the living world, that those rocks that you speak of are living beings, you know, with their own stories, their own history, their own gifts in the world. And that’s something that is so precious to me about the Potawatomi language, is that everything’s a verb. It isn’t just a state of matter. It has agency, right? You know, it could create itself again. It could be something else. And it pains me the way that English is so bound to sort of the objective nature of the world, as if the world was just stuff, instead of this whole gorgeous community of living beings. Could I ask you, in Icelandic languages, is there this animacy built into your language as well?

B: Well, Icelandic is like German origin. It is basically like, I think technically it’s called old Norse. So it hasn’t changed for a thousand years. I think we unfortunately share the verb problem with English. But I think one thing that we do have is most of our names, like human names, and mountains, and everything around us, is still the language we understand. So it hasn’t changed. Like we can still read books that were written thousand years ago like my name is “birch,” and my brother name is straight translation “eagle,” and my mother straight translation of her name is “rune.” You know, like a secret rune. And so on. And also the mountains around us, they all are called names that we understand and actually eat them. We don’t really have monuments like Rome or pyramids like in Egypt. But we do have like, each mountain has a story, and often there will be some creation story, you know, of crawls or compact or like a troll that was late into his cave.  So you know, in that sense, it is very connected with nature still.

 

RWK: Nice. And I love that when places, and the names of places especially, evoke those stories that they hold. And then wow, you walk through the world in such a different way, because when you see that mountain or that river, you’re reminded of the story of that place, of the beings who are around you so much better than when we name mountains or places after colonizers, right? Just somebody’s name, Smithtown. What does that mean? It doesn’t mean anything. So I love that that naming tradition is very much alive for you

 

B: I hope I’m not too selfish if I go back into your book. I’m like a very greedy student, but I just really also enjoy the part, there’s a chapter about the environment, which, of course we could talk about for a year. But my favorite part is when you talk about species loneliness and also indigenous immigrants. And also, you ask the question, can immigrants become indigenous? And if so, can they reach state of reciprocity? I can never say that word. I just find that such a beautiful concept, like in a sort of biological way, species loneliness. Is that a term?

 

RWK: Yeah, it’s a term that—I wish I had at my fingertips who originated that term, but I think it came from the studies of ecopsychology and the idea of species loneliness that we have forgotten, or more truthfully, been made to forget that animacy of the living world. It’s part of that idea of human exceptionalism, right? That human beings are the only ones who matter, that we’re at the top of some kind of fictional pyramid of life, and all the rest are below us. You know that old expression of it’s lonely at the top. And when you create this fictional pyramid of dominion over the world with human beings alone at the top, we don’t have the companionship or the counsel or just the fun and the wonder of other species in our lives. And, you know, in so many places where people are surrounded by the built environment, all they interact with is made by humans. And so I think it makes us lonely for our kinfolk, the birds and the plants. And it has real consequences. Did you see that study? As a musician, I wonder whether this really connects with you. It was this study not long ago which so-called proved that human beings’ happiness are related to the amount of birdsong in their lives, that people who are surrounded by birdsong are much happier than people who aren’t. It made me laugh that somebody had to do a study to demonstrate what we all would intuitively know. But I think that’s an example of the outcomes of species loneliness, when we don’t have the beauty and the sound and the relationships with other beings around us, it leads to the same kind of loneliness that we might feel when we’re estranged from our human family. For me, anyway.

 

B: Is it only, if I remember it right, you were also talking about, you took an example of—I thought it was quite beautiful—when all the interesting things you just said about how the humans ended up being a lonely species. But it came from, like you were comparing it to plants, and kind of when they,  that it’s not a good sign—I can’t remember which plants you mentioned—but that they need to be more in harmony with other plants to survive.

 

RWK: Well, yeah, you make an excellent point, of course, because none of us survive alone. We’re all in this web of interactions, right? I think you couldn’t choose any plant. I don’t remember exactly which ones you’re talking about, but it doesn’t matter, because it would be true for every plant who needs its pollinators, who needs its dispersers, who needs the fungi in the soil that are feeding them and connecting them. This whole idea that any one of us is an individual is simply biologically not true. We are connected so physically to other beings. And yet we sort of psychologically, socially, ecologically, we deny that. We like to think that we’re somehow separate from nature. And it’s not biologically true, and I don’t find it spiritually true either.

 

B: Yes. How is it with the indigenous immigrants? I just found that so interesting, because I just sort of selfishly had a struggle when my second home for a long time was in a city in USA, and if an immigrant can become indigenous if he reaches a state of reciprocity. I just thought philosophically that was just, yeah, so interesting. I think I always find it quite tricky to survive in cities. I actually noticed, I’ve been living for three years in the pandemic in Iceland, and I’m now like in London, and I can take about a week, but then I start walking everywhere, like for five hours just to my appointments, just to get like the sense of, just to feel slightly normal. And you also talked in your book about how when you do gardening, you get oxytocin just from touching the earth and the soil. I’m just sort of curious about surviving in cities, maybe, and how you have dealt with that. I sometimes, even though I walk for five hours or something, you know, when you walk in nature, you get—sorry, it’s going to sound very hippie—you get like re-energized; you get like a buzz up your legs. But in cities, it’s like there’s no current going up your legs. And I get, like, wobbly legs and sort of tired. Does this make any sense?

 

RWK: It so makes sense to me. Yes, exactly. Everything you said, I agree. And good for you to be able to stand a whole week. Sometimes I feel crazy after like one day in the city. And you know, I think, and I wonder if this is true for you, too, it has to do for me with this, you know, when you’re on the land, when you’re in the forest, for me anyway, I’m so open and paying attention to everything going on around me, you know, who’s blooming, what the wind is doing, who’s singing, what insects are out, that I have this quality of attention that is so open. And then when I go to the city, I can’t shut it off. And so all of the noise and the sort of jingle jangle of the city just overwhelms me. But I want to return to your question, and it’s related, of how do immigrant people become indigenous to place? Because I think that is at the heart of some of the crises that we are all facing socially is that we don’t have a sense of belonging to a place. And there was, as I talk about in the book, there was a wonderful teacher for me, Henry Lickers, who was a Mohawk teacher.  And he said that his father always said that the real problems that flow from, let’s say, broadly speaking, immigrant culture here in North America is that the immigrants still have their feet on the ship, that they haven’t committed to living in this new land. They have kind of a frontier mentality of, well, we’re just going to come and take what we want and move on, because it’s not really our home. And that only when you start to feel at home, to feel like you’re going to live there forever, like your descendants are going to live there, then you really start taking care of that place and letting it take care of you. And so his teachings were all about how do we come to be at home? Because when we feel deeply at home, you’re not going to wreck your home. You wreck places where you’re transient. And so, in fact, a lot of the stories in Braiding Sweetgrass grow out of this exploration of what is it to be at home? How can we, in our very transient contemporary society, how do we come to be at home, and therefore in right relationship with land? And reciprocity seems to me to be part of that equation. Just as we can say, well, this land is taking care of me, it’s giving me water, it’s giving me food, it’s giving me air. What could I give back? And I think we just know this intuitively, right? When we feel like we’re strangers in a place, we get involved. We give back to the community that we’re entering and therefore feel at home. So we should, I think, have an opportunity to give back to the land as well, to say how could I be in balance with the land, not just a taker, but what could I give back to the land? And in that give and take, you start to feel at home. And to me, that’s how immigrants become, I don’t want to say indigenous, but indigenous to place, or really, for me, the better language is borrowing from botany. And that is the way in which plants from other places that come to a new landscape, eventually we call them naturalized. They’re not native to this place, but they’ve integrated themselves into this place. They’ve become part of the community, part of the ecosystem. So it’s really an invitation to become naturalized to place, to live in a place as if it mattered, I guess is really what I’m saying. Sorry, that was a really long and rambly way to say that.

 

B: It’s beautiful, and I’m so happy you mentioned reciproci—I can still not say it. Reciprocity. Almost when I read your book, I wanted to count how many times you write it and make a rhythm out of it, because it’s like a rap that goes through all your book. I think it’s like your theme word. And it’s so inspiring how you write about the gratefulness of indigenous people, you know, how they feel for plants and the complicated reciprocity, both unconditionally and not. I was just thinking about how that could sort of mirror like my work, not on a superficial way, but more sort of deeper. And I feel like in collaborations in music, this is very important. You can hear it in the song, if the musicians are merging or not. And sometimes you meet people, and in that friction, you gain almost like clairvoyant knowledge on what the other person needs to learn in order to transform in a truly meaningful, creative way. And the few times when that happens, in that moment, it’s like a mirror. They know that same thing about you, they get the same sort of information. And then a miraculous transformation happens. But it only works if it’s reciprocal, equal, and even somehow. And yeah, you talk so much about how you have to be careful about what you take from nature, and you have to be aware of that it is a fertile exchange, and that after the event, try to be like aware of this. With my fellow musicians, it’s important to leave some good collaboration karma out there. Does that make sense?

 

RWK: Björk, I love that. Yes. I have not experienced it, but in the way you describe it, it feels very true just in that kind of spirit of this mutual exchange so that that both are better for the collaboration. And yeah, I think that’s what, what I’m trying to inspire with the living world, as you do in your music, to see what happens when we create, as you said beautifully, that mirror between creators that allow both to learn. That’s amazing. And listening to you talk about that, it strikes me that these ideas about reciprocity and mutual flourishing, you know, it’s just common sense. We know, we feel intuitively, when that’s working, when there’s a balance, when there’s the energy exchange. And we know how to do it, but we have to somehow encourage ourselves to do it, give each other permission, maybe, to have that kind of reciprocity, with each other, and with the land as well. You know, I worry that our Western culture of hyperindividualism cuts us off from that kind of magic of reciprocity that you’re describing. And I should also say, you’re totally right about Braiding Sweetgrass, that repeated mantra. Every single story is meant to be an example of reciprocity in so many different realms, in hopes that readers will say, as you have, how could I be in reciprocity, with all the things that have been given to me, what could I give back?

 

B: Do you feel like that the academia is changing? I’m just feeling with environment. And I actually just was lucky enough to do a beautiful interview with Greta Thunberg two weeks ago about a book which you are also in, amongst other one hundred specialists. And I’m kind of wanting so bad, like everyone, to be hopeful. I was just thinking about, you know, you talk about the lens of science, because there is a sacred lens in mythology. But is the lens of science sacred enough? And do you think, do you feel it’s changing? You know, even just in the time since you wrote your book, like that the world is moving a little bit?

 

RWK: I do. I do. It feels to me like we’re in a really potentially transformative moment where it’s as if we’re remembering how to be whole. Because in the strictly objective materialist lens of Western science—that is not just, you know, it’s not just science, it’s a whole worldview, right, of materialism and thinking about objects divorced from spirit and subject—It does feel to me like people are saying, wait, why do we have to use only one of these lenses? Wouldn’t we know better, wouldn’t we understand better, wouldn’t we relate to one another better, if we used all of our ways of knowing? Not only the intellect and sort of rational science, but if we also engaged our emotional intelligence, our spiritual ways of knowing, if we engaged the intelligences of the natural world in addition to our own, we would just be so much more whole and rich and able to conceive differently of the world. And I do think it’s happening. In my experience in the university, it’s being driven primarily by students. You know, in any institution, I suppose, the folks who are the organizers, the ones who sort of hold the power and set the framework, they often tend to rely on the framework that they learned when they were young students. And that creates some inertia, right? So things don’t change very fast. But it feels to me like students are really pushing for this wholeness, for thinking about environment, not just in a biophysical way, but in a biocultural way as well. And it has tremendous power to transform, I think. It’s a very exciting moment.

 

B: Yeah. I was reading so many interesting articles there. I didn’t know that, and also, obviously, I want to change, you know, work locally. And it seems like in Iceland, we could really farm seaweed in the oceans around us. That could be done on a humongous scale that could actually affect the acidity of the oceans. So I found a lot of sort of hopeful things in that, that book that, you know, yeah, I think it’s a very, very well—I also like how that book has so many chapters. So you can just go directly to whatever it is that you’re interested in. So it’s very easy to sort of use, you know?

 

RWK: Uh huh.

 

B: Yeah, so congratulations with that book. I think it’s going to make a big impact.

 

RWK: And one of the things— I haven’t seen it all whole yet, but one of the things that I like in what I have seen, is just what you’re talking about, is that it’s really diverse. You know, there are engineering approaches, economic approaches, cultural approaches, artistic approaches. And so I think it, I hope it will be inspiring to people to say, well, there are so many avenues into this urgent work of climate justice.

 

B: I just finished a whole album that took me five years, and it’s all mushroom-inspired, and I wrote arrangement for six bass clarinets, that I’m trying to make them move like mycelium in the ground. So I cannot describe the happiness of when I heard you talk about that there’s a certain word in your language, I’m probably going to fuck it up now, which is the life force of a mushroom. And it’s called “Puhpowee.”

 

RWK: Yes.

 

B: So not the mushroom itself, but just the force that thrushes a mushroom through the soil up to the ground, just that energy has its own word. You have to tell me a little bit more about this, Robin, please.

 

RWK: That word is so illuminating, isn’t it? It’s like this whole way of seeing the world, that you not only name things, but that you name these forces, these life forces as well. And yeah, that is exactly what it means. The force that causes mushrooms to push up from the ground overnight. And I was so in love with that word, I began asking language teachers, well, are there words for other forces? And there are. Like, the unfolding of flowers has its own word, which I can’t remember at the moment. And of seeds germinating and bursting out of their seed coats, there’s a word for that as well. And I just love it. And to me, that is such a—biologically physically, it’s fascinating to think of how that happens, but it also feels like a very sacred energy of a life force. And I’ve been, you know, really thinking about in English, what’s the equivalent? Do we even have word for this life force in English? And I happened upon, or actually someone shared with me, when I asked this question of what are the words that we have for that? And apparently from Latin there is a word “viriditas, of the force that cause the greening of the world.

 

B: Oh wow, I’m going to write that down.

 

RWK: Yeah. I’m in love with that word, too, because it feels like it’s in harmony with Puhpowee. And it actually, I think, was coined by the fourteenth-century thinker and religious figure Hildegard of Bingen. Hildegard von Bingen. I think that that word is attributed to her as this sacred force of life that not only is present in the living world, but is present in us, too, as this kind of healing, life-emerging kind of force. What a thing to celebrate, and to try to understand, what is this life force?

 

B: I sort of might have to mention one more thing, but the last song on my album is actually partly inspired by the beautiful chapter in your book when you are saying goodbye to your daughter to school, and you go canoeing on the water lily pond.

 

RWK: Yes.

 

B: And then you get stuck in the water lilies, and then you see all the generations through the clarity of the water down into the pond.

 

RWK: Yes.

 

B: And I have a daughter who’s twenty, and she went off to school. And the last song on my album, I would like to thank you for the inspiration, Robin. It’s called “Her Mother’s House,” and I wrote it to her. You know how I sometimes am super clumsy in saying goodbye to her, and clingy, and then next day I’m super graceful and over the top, you know, amazing, and then the next day I’m clumsy again. And I sort of wrote the song as sort of a joke on myself, and then I played it for her, and she actually ended up singing it with me, and writing her own verse and singing it with me. So I’m quite happy about that. And are your daughters, are they getting into—? Do they like plants, Robin?

 

RWK: They do. They do. And thank you, Björk, for sharing that story. Is that album out yet, or will we be able to hear it soon? I can’t wait.

 

B: Yeah, it’s like, I mean, just a week ago, isn’t it? But yeah, it just came out.

 

RWK: Oh, awesome. I will be finding that. Yes, both of my daughters are lovers of plants in different ways. They both have gardens, and they both, you know, walk through the world with an eye for the beauty of the botanical world. And, yeah, it’s wonderful. And I see them, I’m lucky enough now to be a grandmother, and I see it in the grandkids, too, who, you know, my little grandkids who go through the yard and say, “Oh, there’s the Band-Aid plant. Oh, there’s the bee plant.” So I’m so grateful that they, too, can have this joy of connecting with the plant world. Yeah. I am so glad that chapter about saying goodbye to our daughters as they go into this next phase of life was connected for you. You know what? I almost didn’t put it in the book. I thought, oh, I don’t know. That’s so deeply personal. I’m probably the only one who has thought about this in this way. And so many mothers, and fathers, too, who have said, oh, thank you, thank you, I knew I wasn’t alone in that moment of transition, right? It’s really hard and really beautiful, too.

 

B: Yes, and also because you turn in the chapter, and it becomes so beautiful and optimistic, with how you describe that image of the clarity of the pond and how you see all the generations of water lilies. It makes you really sort of zoom out and understand so beautifully that it’s, you know, not just about you, you need to let go. But also think it’s weirdly feminist that you kept that chapter in. After that, I actually started looking around, and I think there are so many books and so many films about fathers saying goodbye to their sons and, you know, Star Wars, you know, I’m not going to name the hundred films and books, but I think this particular subject matter I don’t think there’s, I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think there’s not that much of it out there, to be honest.

 

RWK: That’s a really interesting perspective. I think you’re probably right. Like you, I don’t know. But yeah. Could I ask, I love that that you and your daughter sang that song together. Is she a musician, too?

 

B: Yes, she both, she now at that age where she’s trying out a lot of things, which is amazing, which you should do. Both music and acting and directing and yeah, all kind of things. So yeah. Sorry, I don’t want to say too much, because, you know, you don’t want to jinx it, for her sake. She’s sort of in a split spot now that she could go many directions. Yeah, we’ll see.

 

RWK: Good for her. Good for her. Could I ask you a question?

 

B: Absolutely.

 

RWK: And then I’ll let you go. I was so interested, when we began talking, that you were talking about as you go hiking or just out on the land, that you sort of hear the music of the place. And then to hear about your new music that is inspired by mushrooms, I would just, could you say more about how the natural world kind of connects with you in terms of sound and music?

 

B: Yes, I think as I get older and as I meet more musicians, I kind of understand, I’m learning that maybe this is not as common as I thought. I’m not even sure. I think it could be an Icelandic thing, but I have a feeling maybe in a lot of rural areas, you know, when people walk from the next village or go for a walk in the forest, I think people, even though they don’t talk about it, they probably start like humming a song. I think it’s a very sort of natural thing to do. And you sort of try to make sense of, you know, your day and what happened to you. I mean, obviously, you know that we have the songlines with Aboriginals in Australia, which is of course sort of epic. But I didn’t even find out about that till I was a grown-up. But there was a forty-minute walk to school, and we moved to this new place, and I was like, probably around six or eight. No, eight, between eight and twelve was the period where there was a forty-minute walk to my school. And I think it was just my way of sort of, I loved it because I was quite an introvert, so I would just sort of walk, and usually you walk for a while. And then suddenly you like, you start humming, and then something comes out. And usually the bit that comes first out is the bit that you don’t understand, with like the human behavior or like illogical stuff. And then you walk, and you keep walking, and then you roll it around in circles. And then usually, I think it’s human nature, you come with some sort of a conclusion, and that kind of ends up being the chorus, I guess. I actually think this is really common. I think it’s a really sort of natural thing for all of us to do. And I think there’s a reason why there is such a thing as a verse, which is the riddle, and then chorus, sort of where you solve it. But maybe if I could answer your question like from another point of view, which is more abstract or sort of spatial, which I definitely did experience, now that I’ve been— I was just loving so much to be two to three years in Iceland, and I haven’t been so much at home since I was sixteen, and every cell in my body was just loving it. And it was actually interesting to come back here traveling. And I think like when you see those kind of nature films with David Attenborough or whatever, and you see all the birds of paradise like sing and they’re all like territorial, or the birds that you were talking about earlier that make people happy. The need to sing is, of course, it’s like before we even started talking, and it is territorial. And I mean that both in the positive and negative sense of the word, that it’s, you stand up and OK, I own from this twig to like, to this five-meter radius or whatever. It’s mine, you know? So it sounds very, very out there, but it is a very sort of natural thing. You know, and of course, like rappers, you know, everybody in music is sort of doing that. Or opera. You could talk about the first opera houses in Italy, that were actually tiny. And when I walked into it, I understood, yes, like how you can claim the whole space, and you could look every person into the eye while you were singing. And I actually found it very interesting, again, when I’ve been away for two or three years, that I think what I do spatially, I hope this doesn’t sound too like abstract or—I actually try to soak all the stuff that’s in five-meter radius around me, and I kind of absorb it. This doesn’t make any sense. And I’m like, exhausted, and I’m like, stop absorbing those buildings inside you. Stop it. Just like, stop it, you know? So I think it’s not right or wrong, Robin. I’m not saying one thing is right, and I’m not trying to be like, a spatial or rural fascist or something like that, like people have to be like me or they’re wrong. Not at all. Because I have a lot of musicians who were brought up in cities and make techno beats. And that’s absolutely their way of being territorial and sharing the concrete they are inside. But yeah, sorry. Does that make sense?

 

RWK: It does. I feel like my head is exploding with this idea. This is so interesting. To claim, well, not necessarily to claim space, but to fill space around you with music, and that, it strikes me as so resonant with how other animals use their sounds in just that way. Why would we be different? Oh, I love this. So interesting. Thank you. Thank you for that insight. This is going to come with me when I’m walking in the woods now and thinking about that, the territoriality of song. Very cool. Thank you.

 

B: Thank you so much.Yeah, thanks for a beautiful question, and I hope the reply wasn’t too pretentious, but it’s kind of hard to explain. But it is actually really, really natural.

 

RWK: Yeah, yeah.

 

B: Yeah. Well, it was so wonderful to talk to you.

 

RWK: You too.

 

B: I was a little nervous.

 

RWK: Me too. Me too. After all, I’m talking to Björk.

 

B: I’m not usually the one who asks the questions, so I was a little nervous, but I hope I wasn’t too stressed out or something. But thanks for a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful conversation. I can’t wait, I’m going to lull over all your answers.

 

RWK: Well, thank you for the opportunity to visit, and I hope our paths will cross one day as we’re walking through the woods.

 

B: Yes, absolutely. Let’s do a Puhpowee song duet.

 

RWK: Oh, my goodness. Well, thank you so much.

 

B: Thank you. Bye.

 

JK: Thanks for listening to Artists on Writers | Writers on Artists. To catch the video version of this and other episodes, or to subscribe to our newsletters so you can be alerted to future episodes, please visit Artforum.com or Bookforum.com

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