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Arca and Oscar Isaac Look Back on Their Unlikely Collaboration
As with most great avant artists, it’s easier to describe how Arca makes you feel than what it is, exactly, she makes. In her work as a record producer, DJ, singer, and songwriter, the nonbinary Latinx transwoman transmits such a heady confluence of ideas about love and pop and machines and mortality that they are as likely to result in orgasm as they are anxiety. The Barcelona-based performer, who was born in Venezuela and whose name is Alejandra Ghersi, makes live shows that taste like metal, videos that feel like the release of chaos, and songs that smell like the deepest, dankest parts of the earth. Arca has come out with four studio albums, including this summer’s KiCk i, her most accessible offering to date, which featured appearances by Björk, Rosalía, and Sophie. Conceived as a tetralogy, Arca is set to unleash three more installments of KiCk into the universe, which is why we’ve split this piece into three distinct conversations, with the artist Marina Abramović, the musician Rosalia, and the actor Oscar Isaac. This is part III: Spirit.
OSCAR ISAAC: How are you feeling?
ARCA: Good. I got back to Barcelona a couple of days ago. I was in Madrid and Paris for a little bit. I’m glad to be able to travel for work.
ISAAC: It feels like we’re doing some sort of weird subversive act by actually working.
ARCA: Transgressive, too. Using libidinal energy, putting oneself out there, taking measured risks, creating.
ISAAC: Unsanctioned creation.
ARCA: I don’t think many people know about our collaboration at the Mutant;Faith show [an immersive performance series Arca staged in 2019 at The Shed in New York], and I was wondering if you’d be down to talk about it.
ISAAC: Let’s go back to the beginning: an email I wrote you. I found it, and I’d like to read it: “I’d love to invite you to come see our production of Hamlet at the Public Theater in New York City this summer. I’m a massive admirer of your work, and the new album, in particular, has been such an inspiration and obsession for me throughout the process of putting the play together. Flesh, despair, love, and death, the swan song, all themes that synchronize with the play so powerfully and reflect each other. Y tu voz me rompe el corazón [your voice breaks my heart]. You have an open invitation. Please don’t hesitate to reach out, un abrazo [a hug]. With much admiration and respect.” And then you showed up, and I was really taken aback. You were so kind and generous afterward.
ARCA: I was so moved after seeing your performance in Hamlet. I’d never seen the play before, and I just couldn’t believe it. There was an element of shape-shifting in your range; the places that you were unafraid to go to emotionally, you were then able to very casually come back from. I relate to that and it’s very moving. I felt lucky to have caught that performance, and ever since then, our correspondence has given me strength. It’s mysterious to me that somehow we develop this will to be an artist. And then you somehow end up meeting other artists along the way. From bonding over the work that you’re doing, you get to meet people from different backgrounds, different generations, and different spheres. We never talked about it, but I was so grateful to collaborate with you at the show. I wanted to hear how you feel about it in hindsight?
ISAAC: I’m so proud of it. I can’t not show a photograph of me all dressed up and looking fantastic.
ARCA: For me, it was about our connection, so I was overprotective or maybe too shy about it. Does that make any sense?
ISAAC: Of course, and I appreciate that. It was crazy, even just the lead-up to it, because we were talking about what it could be in a very organic way. You said it could be any number of things, and that sent me on a hunt. I found this [Samuel] Beckett text [Ohio Impromptu], which is about versions of these twins. It was talking about something very dark, and you loved it.
ARCA: It blew me away.
ISAAC: I think the other thing that really moved me about it, apart from just your willingness to play and to go there with it, was that my father came up to visit.
ARCA: I know.
ISAAC: He’s totally right-of-center, politically. He’s this Cuban guy who’s in Tennessee, and we don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, and I didn’t really tell him anything about it. I’m just like, “Hey, I’m going to do this performance. Why don’t you come? There’s a really incredible musician you should see.” So he came, and he sat there and watched me undergoing the transformation [into a blonde wig and tights], and he made some jokes about it, but then he came in to meet you, and he turned into a shy little boy. He was so enamored of you, and after we left, he said, “I think she liked me.” I said, “I think she liked you, too.”
ARCA: I did. He was really sweet and cool. I was surprised that you invited him.
ISAAC: I know. Afterward, he also said, “It was like watching a little girl in her room, doing make-believe, but allowing herself to be as vicious, and as wild, as she wanted to be.”
ARCA: I thought that was very profound, not needing to see innocent play as devoid of a shadow. That’s so humanizing. There’s something freeing, almost playful, about simulating certain things.
ISAAC: You unify it all. Even the unification that happened between me and my father for that one moment.
ARCA: It’s about harmony. The grotesque can suddenly become incredibly beautiful. The sexual can become pure. The feminine and the masculine mix with each other. All these things are Arca.
Hair: Xavi Garcia, at Salon 44
Makeup: Vincent Guijarro.
Set Design: . Cito Ballesta.
Photography Assistant: Aaron Serrano.
Fashion Assistant: Isabel Greece.
Set Design Assistant: Malva Sawada.