The human machine and Arca’s mutant faith

Body, mind and spirit: it is not easy to trace common themes in the artistic production and modus pensandi of Arca, the Venezuelan DJ, singer, fashion icon and producer. One should perhaps speak of guiding principles rather than common themes.

The role of the body is undoubtedly central. Body is all that we have at our birth; however, it is not only flesh and blood, but also body in its extensions. In the Vincentian Vitruvian man, the material perimeter of the human body coincided in the shapes of the circle (the divine) and the square (the earthly). For Arca, the divine and earthly coexist, but the geometry is extended, complicated. Arca’s figures explicitly refer to the Vitruvian man: in the Prada/Rakata video (whose images were later used as the covers of her latest albums), we see Arca in an almost laboratory-like set, with doubled limbs and heads, in poses that trace squares and circles, but also progressively more complicated shapes. This is where the mind comes into play, capable of making itself the bearer of a continuous increase in the body: alterations, extensions, duplications, eliminations. Such manifestations of the body are just as real if on flesh and blood as if in a music video, a cover or an art performance.

Arca tends towards a (re)solution in a series of Vichian courses and recursions, in which person and machine become one, split, and recombine. It is no coincidence that over the course of her latest project the concepts of “first death” and “last birth” appear several times, in a continuous cycle of rebirth and reinvention.  Arca is in this sense her own deus ex machina: and this is where the spirit comes into play. If in Greek tragedy the god brought resolution, while here faith is earthly, and is a faith in constant change, what Arca herself repeatedly calls a ‘mutant faith’. Mutant was the title of her 2015 album, while mutant faith appears explicitly for the first time as a concept in her creative output with the performance art residency Mutant;Faith, in New York for four nights in October 2019.

This belief is one of the red threads within Arca’s latest ambitious and maximalist project: a pentalogy of albums entitled Kick, from the prenatal kick, conceived as the first tangible sign of a human being’s life. KiCk i opened the kick cycle in mid-2020, followed closely at the end of 2021 by its iterations ii, iii, iiii and iiiii, released one per day over the course of a week between November and December 2021. 59 songs in total across five albums, initially conceived as a trilogy, later becoming a tetralogy, to which a surprise fifth element was added. These facts alone give an idea of how much of the artist’s production is in progress. The process is more important than the final goal, and it is the journey itself that gives meaning to exploration, to experimentation.

More is always more for Arca. Describing the project from a musical point of view is not easy, precisely because of its constant mutability, in which one can sense the longing for fixed points; these goals, however, are nothing more than new starting points for further extension and complication. The first kick is somewhat the most pop element (not coincidentally, also the one with the most guest artists, such as Björk, Rosalía, Sophie, Shygirl), but also the one that presents the vastness and eclecticism of styles present in the following four works. KICK ii starts with a series of reggaeton-like songs, which in the second part are dissected into a series of tracks with impalpable atmospheres, in which the rhythms and melodies tend to fade away. The third volume draws its inspiration from club music, especially techno.

The atmospheres from the first to the third volume tend towards an increasing agitation, which is then to some extent resolved in the last two chapters: in kick iiii Arca achieves a sort of synthesis of her meta-pop, in a collection of songs rich in melodies, full of poetic suggestions and manifestos of intent. Queer is a political song in which Arca exalts the strength and pain of her own queerness, in tears that are tears of fire, of a queer fire. Planningtorock, famous for another queer dancefloor anthem from 2013, Let’s Talk About Gender Baby, is the guest on the track. Shirley Manson of Garbage (who came to prominence in 1993 with a song called Queer; is this a coincidence?) recites the words of another manifesto, Alien Inside, a celebration of the otherness within each of us, as an opportunity for constant renewal. The fifth and last (?) kick, a surprise release without any announcement, is a coda, a sort of epilogue to the project. Of the five albums, it is the most stripped-down, in which Arca rediscovers the instruments and elements of classical music that marked her early works, such as Xen. Unlike her first efforts, however, the music here is less claustrophobic, airier, enriched by elements of ambient music, leaving the impression of an open ending.

Compared to the artistic beginnings of the Arca project, the new element seems to be that of greater openness, which is exuded in a pop (in the broadest sense of the term) afflatus at a musical level, the reflection of which is also perceptible at an aesthetic level. It is no coincidence that Arca has gone from being a niche phenomenon to extending her tentacles (metaphorical and mechanical) into the mainstream, recently also becoming a fashion star, featuring on covers for Vogue Mexico and advertising campaigns for Bottega Veneta, and attracting the attention of contemporary art icons such as Marina Abramović and Hans Ulrich Obrist.

With an increasingly deep and varied artistic output, it is difficult to predict what direction Arca’s career will take in the future. However, one thing can be said with almost total certainty: we are unlikely to see her fixed in one place for too long.


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