02/21

Arca × Frederik Heyman, Nonbinary, 2020

Presenting the self as at once decentralized and non-fungible, this isn’t cryptoart, it’s crypto as art.

Kanon
Published in
6 min readApr 13, 2021

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Arca × Frederik Heyman, Nonbinary, 2020 (still)

View Nonbinary (2020) in the K21 gallery here

In Nonbinary, the lead track of her latest album, KiCK i (2020), musician, producer, and visual artist Alejandra Ghersi refrains, “Speak for your self-states.” One self, many states. Identity as plural.

She explains:

I’m asking for recognition that we have multiple selves without denying that there’s a singular unit,[…] [It’s] the difference between the pronoun use of ‘they’ and ‘it.’ It’s that I want to have my cake and eat it, too. I want to be seen as an ecosystem of minor self-states without being stripped of the dignity of being a whole. (source)

Nonbinary in gender, nonbinary in ontology: the self is not just this or that. It’s a thriving ecosystem, an uncontrollable stream of overlapping and competing perspectives, experiences, desires. “Nonbinary is about and as opposed to or,” she told us below.

In the video for Nonbinary, visual artist Frederik Heyman captured and digitized Ghersi as Arca, her musical alter ego. In his meticulously arranged compositions, Heyman brings together a broad array of multimedia practices using 3D scans taken, and reanimated, over time. Through precise and uncanny renderings and haunting environments, Heyman cast Arca as a cyborg Venus, a post-human goddess of birth and rebirth attended to by an android army of co-stars.

She emerges from the fog pegged to a suspended stone, pierced like Prometheus or Christ by a pair of oversized shears and swarmed by robotic insects. We next meet her lying pregnant on a lace-draped chrome birthing table surrounded by anthropomorphic surgeons, the corsage resting in her hand a remnant of interspecies marriage. Reborn in Botticellian flare, rising from a shell anchored to a drowned cemetery, her mechanical appendages have been shed along with her digitized physique. The video concludes with Arca facing a non-digitized version of herself in a passionate argument engulfed by flames: the multiple self multiplied yet again. The video denies resolution but her closing lyrics leave no doubt:

“What a treat it is to be nonbinary ma chérie… bitch.”

Ghersi and Heyman’s “speculative fiction,” constructed of sound and form, lyrics and symbols, presents Arca as at once decentralized and non-fungible. Their first NFT minted together, Nonbinary isn’t cryptoart; it’s crypto as art.

We discussed this intersection with Ghersi and Heyman in the interview below.

Arca × Frederik Heyman, @@@@@, 2020 (still)

What does minting Nonbinary as an NFT mean to you?

Alejandra Ghersi: I feel simultaneously humble and very proud of seeing the work not just as entertainment but also more — a mirror of its time in a way that couldn’t have existed before: sonically, visually, in relation to what was made possible by creative technologies thus far.

What does it mean for it to be part of the K21 Collection?

AG: It means a lot because Nonbinary was somewhat of a statement of intent that, for me personally, broke a very long silence. It’s a work that I engage with in a daily way, one that helps nuance my response to things. Nonbinary is about and as opposed to or. It’s about the possibility of finding new ways of mediating identity, which is something that I think incidentally occurs within the blockchain by sheer virtue of the fact that every single operation needs to be validated by each node of the network. This prevents foul play in ways that are often repetitive and unchallenged in contemporary geopolitical structures. Part of the reason I was drawn to the project to begin with was that it started with a goal of protecting 21,000 acres of land. This effort shows that blockchain technology need not be carbon positive, but being new and bringing attention to the carbon cost of the services we use every day, it can more than any other industry strive to be carbon negative.

What’s the message of the work and how do you communicate it?

AG: I felt that the hyper-dramatic bravado that I deploy in this character, emploring that we each speak for our self-states, was necessary to get this point across. Drama was necessary to reach people with this idea that we are all constituted by an ecosystem of selves, rather than made up of one unified whole. We are a never-ending changing of seasons internally. I think nonbinaryness and the idea of the quantum are in harmony conceptually. They seem like a more real way of perceiving the world. It reminds me of the meaning of the word phenomenology, which seems like a fancy word, but it just means waiting before drawing conclusions when studying or observing phenomena.

How does this play out in the track?

AG: The song itself, sonically, is constituted by bursts of noise. It finishes with a bittersweet harmonic passage that reminds me somewhat of TV jingles or a tag, those melodies that announce the changing of a transmission from one state to the next. It’s an earworm that just came to me. I see it as a treat to the listener who survived the onslaught, the barrage of blasts that come before. This is the song’s sense of humor.

How did you use images to tell the story?

AG: Frederik Heyman’s visualisations go beyond utopia and dystopia. The universe we built suggests something similar to one of speculative fiction, a universe that is already possible in how it challenges conventions of beauty.

Frederik Heyman: Creating visuals is my main practice. I think and breathe in visuals. Rarely do I find the unique synergy as the one I have with Alejandra. Working with her allows me to go out of my comfort zone and explore new artistic territories. It’s a new language we’ve developed: we supplement, expand, don’t limit, merge worlds. I love to work with extended mood and storyboards in general. With Alejandra we bring it to another level, taking the time to develop a new narrative in the visuals through detailed research and sketches as a base. We consider each minor and major visual element as of equal importance and narrative necessity, revisiting the past by recycling symbolism, reshaping them into an alternative present.

Arca × Frederik Heyman, Nonbinary, 2020 (still)

How did you achieve the visuals? Was anything special about the technique, software, or this moment in time that made it possible?

FH: Nonbinary was mainly created with 3D scans. During the creation of this video, I was focussing in my practice on the stillness of the scans, creating frozen moments in time, digital installations constructed out of relics of a past moment that conserve a moment in time spatially. Because one needs time to experience three dimensions, a 3D scan is a bearer of duration. This duration is a narrative element which is amplified by mechanically induced movement in its environment and contrasting animation, all but Arca’s body.

Why did you use the figure of Venus?

FH: We were using clear symbolic references in the shots as a strong, straightforward blueprint to guide viewers through the detailed, sometimes complex, scenes.(Re)birth was one of them. I love to revisit iconic themes from cultural history, reshape them in a contemporary context. What else is more iconic for this theme than the Birth of Venus to be reborn into?

What was it like to work together?

AG: Tender, revelatory, therapeutic, riveting, surprising, heartwarming, encouraging; my ongoing correspondence with Frederik and our synergy and playful engagement with how to reckon with such loaded symbols, his sensitivity and all the care he shows me helps make me feel less alone in my practice.

FH: Thank you Alejandra, it’s all mutual. I am reaching new heights, expanding and reshaping my practice. I’m grateful and honored to experience this ongoing creative symbiosis.

Will you work together again?

AG: Frederik and I are working on four album covers and videos rn :heart:

What do you think about working with anonymous curators through an artwork about identity?

AG: Makes so much more sense to me.

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