Watch Björk’s 6 Favorite TED Talks, From the Mushroom Death Suit to the Virtual Choir


Image by Zach Klein

Singer-songwriter Björk, currently enjoying a career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, celebrated TED’s billionth video view with a playlist of six treasured TED Talks. What do her choices say about her?

In this talk, artist Jae Rhim Lee models her Mushroom Death Suit, a kicky little snuggy designed to decompose and remediate toxins from corpses before they leech back into the soil or sky. Despite Björk’s fondness for outré fashion, I’m pretty sure this choice goes beyond the merely sartorial.

For more information, or to get in line for a mushroom suit of your own, see the Infinity Burial Project.

Continuing with the mushroom / fashion theme, Björk next turns to designer Suzanne Lee, who demonstrates how she grows sustainable textiles from kombucha mushrooms. The resulting material may variously resemble paper or flexible vegetable leather. It is extremely receptive to natural dyes, but not water repellent, so bring a non-kombucha-based change of clothes in case you get caught in the rain.

For more information on Lee’s homegrown, super green fabric, visit BioCouture.

Björk’s clearly got a soft spot for things that grow: mushrooms, mushroom-based fabric, and now…building materials? Professor of Experimental Architecture Rachel Armstrong’s plan for self-regenerating buildings involves protocols, or “little fatty bags” that behave like living things despite an absence of DNA. I’m still not sure how it works, but as long as the little fatty bags are not added to my own ever-growing edifice, I’m down.

For more information on what Dr. Armstrong refers to as bottom up construction (including a scheme to keep Venice from sinking) see Black Sky Thinking.

Björk’s next choice takes a turn for the serious… with games. Game Designer Brenda Romero began exploring the heavy duty emotional possibilities of the medium when her 9-year-old daughter returned from school with a less than nuanced understanding of the Middle Passage. The success of that experiment inspired her to create games that spur players to engage on a deeper level with thorny historical subjects. (The Trail of Tears required 50,000 individual reddish-brown pieces).

Learn more about Romero’s analog games at The Mechanic is the Message.

Remember those 50,000 individual pieces? As photographer Aaron Huey documented life on Pine Ridge Reservation, he was humbled by hearing himself referred to as “wasichu,” a Lakota word that can be translated as “non-Indian.” Huey decided not to shy away from its more pointed translation: “the one who takes the best meat for himself.” His TED Talk is an impassioned history lesson that begins in 1824 with the creation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and ends in an activist challenge.

Proof that Björk is not entirely about the quirk.

See Huey’s photos from the National Geographic cover story, “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse.”

Björk opts to close things on a musical note with excerpts from composer Eric Whitacre’s “Lux Aurumque” and “Sleep” performed by a crowdsourced virtual choir. Its members—they swell to 1999 for “Sleep”—record their parts alone at home, then upload them to be mixed into something sonically and spiritually greater than the sum of its parts.

Listen to “Sleep” in its entirety here.

Related Content:

Hear the Album Björk Recorded as an 11-Year-Old: Features Cover Art Provided By Her Mom (1977)

A Young Björk Deconstructs (Physically & Theoretically) a Television in a Delightful Retro Video

Björk and Sir David Attenborough Team Up in a New Documentary About Music and Technology

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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