By XL Recordings
Words by Miles Raymer
For the past nine years we’ve watched Alejandra Ghersi, better known as Arca, carve a blazing path through the zeitgeist–a shapeshifting celestial body, streaking across the cultural firmament.
Every time we laid eyes on her she’d taken on some new form–noise musician, diva, philosopher, fashion plate, party girl, technologist. Every time it seemed like we had a grip on her she slipped right past our expectations, protean and elusive.
That liquid nature has allowed Arca’s talents to thrive in unexpected places.
Beyond creating a dense and varied body of musical work, she’s produced for Björk, Kanye, and FKA twigs; composed for Museum of Modern Art and a retro gaming console; DJ'ed Frank Ocean’s PREP+ party; and performed at a Burberry runway show for Riccardo Tisci.
She’s painted her own album art, modeled, co-designed next-generation musical instruments, and built an online community for the horde of self-proclaimed “mutants” who follow her. Seemingly disparate things that in retrospect add up to a single, ever-growing holistic work.
But these are only snapshots, artifacts of the ceaseless movement from one state to the next. Arca’s true artistic medium is transformation itself. It exists in the quantum-like state of infinite potential, further out towards the edge of possibility than most people dare to go.
“I don't want to be tied to one genre,” Arca says. “I don't want to be labeled as one thing.”
Her Grammy-nominated 2020 album KiCk i is a hologram holding all of her musical identities—at least the ones she’s shown us so far—in a state of simultaneous superimposition.
Arca - Nonbinary (2020) by Frederik HeymanXL Recordings
Turn it one way and you find Arca the beatmaker, who first grabbed our attention in 2012 with the fractalized club music of her Stretch 1 & 2 EPs.
Arca - Mequetrefe (2020) by Carlos Sáez, Arca and Kynan Puru WattXL Recordings
Turn it another way and you encounter a mischievous mind that’s reverse-engineering contemporary pop and re-coding it in her own image.
Arca - Time (2019) by MANSONXL Recordings
Turn it yet another and you find a Latin chanteuse who first emerged under the name Ghersi--exploring gender on/off stage, through live in-person and online performances. It was through this she came to identify as a nonbinary trans woman.
As Arca has evolved, she’s dissolved the distinctions between the artist, her art, and the tools she uses to create it.
The four-night performance piece, Mutant:Faith, that she debuted at The Shed in 2019, was built around custom-built technology she co-designed that transformed her body into an instrument in ways that have never been tried on stage before—
Myoelectric sensors that let her play sound with her muscles, a 9-foot-tall dance pole that generated noise through skin contact, and gear that translated her movements into MIDI notes.
Skin-activated Theramin pole seen above, made in collaboration with Landscape FM.
Custom laser wings seen above and Máscara Láser by Carlos Sáez.
Custom mechanical bull seen above designed by Arthur de Borman.
Since the pandemic has kept her away from the stage, she’s continued to experiment with new ways of interfacing with technology, like using software from London-based AI startup Bronze to create 100 different AI-generated remixes of the KiCk i track “Riquiquí.”
Sometimes, Arca feels like a shard of some potential future jutting into the here and now. But while her work—and she herself—can feel science-fictional, it’s not just theoretical.
She seems to emanate change—an extradimensional beacon guiding us into unexplored worlds, splicing snippets of alien DNA into our psychic code. Her musical ideas reverberate through popular music at every level.
The experimental instruments she’s helping to design are opening the door to body-based controllers for the mass market.
Her Discord group Mutants1000000 has grown into a refuge for “mutants” who share her dream of reshaping the world to fit them better, and who have the potential to effect change in ways that even Arca can’t predict.
KiCk i (2020) by Arca & Carlota GuerreroXL Recordings
The cover of KiCk i has become the defining image of Arca in this phase of her evolution.
She is standing tall and still, the soft curves of her almost-naked body wrapped in the hard metal embrace of a cybernetic exoskeleton. Stilt-like legs give her body a threatening animal posture, and long, curved claws extend downward from her wrists.
She’s a war machine at rest, but the expression on her face is serene. She has seen the future, and now she’s inviting us to create it with her.