Björk: A Songbird’s Battle for Iceland’s Nature

From Reykjavik to Seyðisfjörður, The Musical Journey of Environmental Activism

When one thinks of Iceland, somehow Björk comes to mind in a peculiar way. The singer has lived away from Iceland for all these years – in London and New York, frequently touring – but she always felt like she was “holding her breath,” as she put it in The Guardian.

In recent years, since her relationship with the artist Matthew Barney ended in 2013, she has been living in Reykjavik, where she has witnessed the significant increase in tourism on the island, which has risen from a few hundred thousand annual visitors 20 years ago to nearly 2 million today. For this reason, when she lends her voice to any environmental campaign, it has an impact far beyond the North Atlantic.

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She has been involved in protests for 30 years, as she explained, “but always in Iceland, where I know I can actually make a change. We have the largest virgin land in Europe, and many of us feel like its guardians, you know, the way you are guardians of anything…” the artist smiles.

Her current obsession is trying to stop the practice of intensive salmon farming in the fjords of Iceland, an industry that threatens not only the island’s historic wild salmon, as she claims, but also the entire marine ecology. She refers to the practice of industrial salmon farming, essentially factory farming.

She describes a practice imported from Norway of intensive salmon farming, which accelerates the fish’s growth. Diseases, she claims, are widespread, showing photographs of deformed farmed fish as evidence.

According to Björk, this is not just a battle between ecology and local economies, as only a few hundred people are employed in the salmon farming businesses. “It’s like two Norwegian billionaires,” she says. “They wrecked everything in Norway. And now they’ve come to Iceland. People say it’s like the banking crash. A few people make millions, and the rest get nothing.” The problem became headlines in August when thousands of farmed salmon escaped and swam in all the rivers of Iceland.

However, all these claims about diseases and mistreatment are disputed by the salmon farming companies. Speaking to The Guardian last month, a representative of Arctic Fish, the company responsible for the nets from which the farmed salmon “escaped,” stated, “We have systems that ensure that wild salmon is not endangered. Furthermore, our licenses have expiration dates. If we don’t behave properly, our licenses are not renewed.” An investigation into whether environmental laws were violated is also ongoing.

The battle against the expansion of open-net fish farming is now focused on a village called Seyðisfjörður in the east of the island. “Many bohemian artists live there,” she says, “and they are protesting on the streets about this issue,” Björk points out.

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The protesters have run out of money, so Björk has released a single to raise funds. Björk and Rosalía have joined forces and collaborated for the first time, as Björk claims that large-scale agriculture “has catastrophic consequences for wildlife” in her country.

If the new song represents direct environmental action, her current tour aims for something more. The tour is the live version of her penultimate album “Utopia,” which takes place in a science fiction future, “not post-apocalyptic,” she says, “but post-optimistic.” It includes a monologue by Björk’s friend, Greta Thunberg, “who comes into conflict with the elements of the animation.”

“I am still optimistic,” she says. “I have many nephews and nieces, and I see my daughter’s friends (Isadora is 21 – Björk also has a son, Sindri, who is 37). These kids are all at university studying how to manage a national park or how to sue mineral fuel companies. Basically, I believe that when they finally take over from the 80-year-old men who rule the world, then is when we will start to see real changes,” she concludes.

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