When we spoke to LA-based artist-cum-director Andrew Huang about his collaboration with Bjork he left the words “I’m ready to go dark again” ringing in our ears. True to his word, Andrew’s new epic promo for Sigur Ros does exactly that, tapping primal urges, elemental forces and mythical ad biblical metaphors to spin a visceral tour de force for their new track, Brennisteinn (which translates to Brimstone).
Where to start… The song’s title translates to “Brimstone” which in its biblical context refers to the signs of God’s wrath but also describes the sulphur that forms around volcanic openings. How far were you conscious of these dual meanings and did they feed into some of your creative / thematic decisions?
“Brennisteinn / Brimstone” was working title of the demo sent to us, and from the outset Jónsi had shared with us images of sulphur crystals and lyrics having to do with burning eyes, burning skin and all those qualities we associate with the striking neon element. I began doing more research on sulphur and all the amazing formations it comes in, particularly in deposits around geothermal vents. Sulphur was a such a rich launching point to create visuals from, and inspired this idea of something wild and untamed buried deep in the earth that was threatening to come out.
In a way this film feels like a blend of the performative rawness of the Bjork piece and the more abstracted nature of your short Solipsist. A solidification of your voice as an artist. So… as an artist do you have an “official” explanation of what the film is about or would you rather not get proscriptive about meanings?
Well, one of the main challenges for this was that it is Sigur Ros’s first official performance music video ever. It’s also the first time the band is performing as a trio since Kjartan, the fourth, left this past year. So, this video is just as much about creating a new portrait for the band that communicates a break from their previous sound and legacy, but also telling a new story about this raw energy that they’re drawing from….not new energy, but energy that had been lying dormant from the beginning waiting to erupt. Ultimately this video is about the awakening of something dark and wild from inside, like a beast emerging from within. I guess you could say it’s like a violent exorcism.
That said, there’s an intense violence and tension / release at work in the video – an awakening of sorts that’s triggered by the sacrificial scene and the subsequent contact between the two male figures. Can we ask whether this has any connection to personal emotional processes you’ve been through?
When we heard from the band’s management about this idea of a ‘beast awakening from within’ it was very easy for me to emotionally access that. Many of us Westerners who grew up in Christian households are well acquainted with Hell imagery, eternal judgement and what not, like the insanity of Bruegel or Bosch paintings. This was an opportunity to let those demons out 🙂
We’d like to start an online tread about the significance of the bull monolith (Kubrick’s got his monolith – maybe this is yours?!) – it feels like this figure encapsulates the idea of irrational rage directed at something indestructible (the sun sphere it crashes into). The attempt to overcome something that’s too big. Care to comment?
When I first heard the track, all I could think of was a deity rising from the ground, like a sleeping giant. H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu reawakening, rising from the earth to wreak destruction. I also kept thinking of the word “beast” and what that meant to me, and I immediately thought of the bull statues from Persepolis. I worked with my amazing production designer Hugh Zeigler to create a look, and we ended up fusing the bull head with an elephant skull. Definitely wanted to create something that felt emotionless, cosmic and damning.
The amount of time and emotion you invest in each of your films seeps off the screen. Do you find it quite intense inhabiting these abstract and elemental worlds while you’re creating your works?
Intense would be an understatement.
And on the subject of elements – what draws you to the recurring interrogation of the building blocks of physical matter and the processes that bring life into existence? It feels like these are themes that connect your past three films. Drawing an aesthetic elegance from very visceral imagery.
I think I’m just really fascinated by bodies, and get excited about the idea of bodies (human bodies, earth and nature bodies) dissolving and sublimating from one state to another. The song itself is very much about something erupting from a within a body, trying to get out, so it was ripe material for me to plug my current vein of work into.
What were the most demanding creative and technical aspects of this project for you?
There were many many challenges on this. It’s just an epic song with such vastness and rage. It was a struggle to illustrate this world in 8 long minutes without blowing my budget and filling it with visual effects like my past work.
But the biggest one was the creative problem of legacy. Trying to define a new look for the band that departed from their previous identity, but still felt authentic and connected to a deeper punk sensibility that I believe was present from their very early work. Trying to depart from their legacy as Icelanders and wanting their image to feel more global and contemporary. And of course trying to stay true to my own short legacy since my short film Solipsist released only a year ago. My short film and the Bjork music video were so intertwined thematically. I had to figure out where to take this one in a direction that felt stylistically fresh yet still true to myself. We set out from the beginning to make this one extremely different from the Bjork video, but it also had to contain elements that were consistent for me as an artist.
Regarding technical challenges, the shoot was divided between Reykjavik and LA. Our LA production involved a cold rainy night shoot in a rugged yard in East LA. It was a muddy uncomfortable one, mostly for our poor dancers who had to roll around in it!
Anything else you’d like to share?
Creating any project is like birthing a baby. This was another whopping Icelandic baby.