Arca’s album visuals merge futurism and ancient symbolism

Artist and collaborator Frederik Heyman talks to us about the making of the visuals across Arca’s string of new albums

Arca is the alias of Alejandra Ghersi, the Venezuelan music artist who has climbed the ranks in the past decade as a producer working with some of the most culturally significant figures in music, such as Björk, Kanye West and FKA twigs. In recent years she has flourished as a solo artist, with a handful of critically acclaimed releases newly joined by a slew of albums that arrived at the beginning of December.

The new suite of LPs – Kick ii, iii, iiii and iiiii – are each “unique and self-contained”, shapeshifting musically and conceptually from commanding to euphoric to sensual, yet they become intertwined by the visual language created by 3D artist Frederik Heyman.

All four cover artworks are drawn from Arca’s Prada/Rakata music video. Where the video brings the mechanics of these compositions to life, the static album artworks give us pause to pore over the rich, intricate detail and the multitudes of the visuals – a concept at the heart of Ghersi’s Arca project. The artworks bring together gore and majesty; birth and destruction; nature and technology; ancient symbolism and radical futures. Below, Heyman talks to us about the Kick ii-iiiii universe.

Kick iiiii album cover

Creative Review: What is your collaborative relationship like with Alejandra?
Frederik Heyman: I cherish our creative relationship deeply. I’ve rarely encountered such a symbiose of creative worlds that supplement each other instead of limit. We started collaborating on our visual journey in 2018. We’ve grown a base of strong trust and mutual understanding, which is fundamental for this sort of process. We both have such detailed and complex storytelling in our practice, that entwined and climaxed in this series. We elevate and challenge each other and merge into a new visual language.

CR: How long have you spent working across these albums?
FH: The last Kick series was created in the course of a year. We laid out a blueprint of the narrative we wanted to tell, accompanied by a first round of sketches in the summer of 2020. It soon became clear we had around seven fundamental stages we wanted to cover. We wanted Arca to transcend the physical world into an extensive digital seance via her performative avatar, navigating through ancient symbolism revisited in a contemporary post-human narrative. This all eventually resulting in a digital manifesto. A celebration of both life and death. Embracing what has been, reborn in what’s to come.

We needed to cover a lot of productional parts, which wasn’t always straightforward during the pandemic. On the other hand, having this much time in the process makes you able to revisit several narrative elements in a later stage. As the story is fully digital, these elements were relatively easy to adjust. No decision is final until you hit the render button.

Kick iiii

CR: What was the process for creating these visuals?
FH: Everything is computer generated. Meaning nothing you see has a physical presence in real life. All the details, every prop, animation, texture, makeup, styling … needs to be created from scratch and well curated. I love doing that. Nothing is left to chance.

The two big visuals challenges were the extensive sets, and of course her avatar. The avatar was created by a company in Berlin, Mimic Productions. They created her from photographs. Usually, they start from a 3D scan, which was not possible at that time, but starting from a blank page opens new exciting options. In the end an avatar doesn’t have to be an exact body double, but an ultimate projection of one’s physical desires.

Her motion and speech were then captured remotely, and applied onto her avatar in each scene. On the digital sets that surrounded her, I’ve worked almost non-stop for a year. I love to get lost in these. I’m in a hypnotic state then. They are full of mechanics, animations, animals, 3D scans, and even a previous cover art [from] last year. In the spider scene, she skins and processes her previous avatar from the @@@@@ artwork to be reborn into a new upgraded version, while giving birth to her new offspring (mascot Mima).

CR: Can you tell us about the creatures that appear alongside Arca?
FH: The main character she interacts with, besides her multiple self, we called in the working process ‘the builders’ – based on working bees, all in function of serving their queen. Literally building and supporting the universe around her. They each serve a specific purpose of equal importance in the larger story in relation to Arca. These were designed by an amazing artist, Andrea Chiampo.

Aside from them, Andrea designed the mascot, Mima, who, in all her out-of-this-world innocence, counters all the gore and is a silent spectator in most of the scenes. They speak telepathically. They are similar to moogles in Final Fantasy.

Kick ii, iii, iiii and iiiii are out now on XL Recordings;