This is a screenshot from Arca’s 2020 music video “Nonbinary.” The link to the full video is also included.
Like the authors of Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation, Arca is interested in the relationship between gender, technology, nature, and the future.
What does this particular screenshot (or the whole song) seem to suggest about Arca’s views about the relationship between gender and nature? Does it seem to reject nature in the same way that Xenofeminism does, or do something different?
I am not a person that understands the arts. I do not understand the connection between what people say what the art represents and what it looks like. In this video and photo, it looks like the person rejects nature and uses technology as survival. The non-binary part, I do not understand what the person is trying to portray. It looks like through the use of technology, by uploaded your mind onto technology, one can be whatever and whomever they want. It does give the appearance of representing Xenofeminism that all gender roles are the norm through the use of technology.
From the imagery depicted in the screenshot (and the video), Arca is invoking a relationship between Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”, the goddess of love who was supposed to be the epitome of beauty, and what I am thinking is a technological creation of non-binary beauty. I don’t know if I see Arca’s depiction as a”rejection” of nature or rather that technology (machines) can create nature, even though that might be an oxymoron of sorts. I originally questioned the statement at the end of the Xenofeminism article, “if nature is unjust, change nature” as an idealistic take that ignores the complexities of what or how that would be possible, but perhaps Arca is taking that same stance — use technology to change nature. We have spent quite a bit of time defining what it means to be human, the body, even technology, but what is nature? Can you have nature that has been created by machines, by technology?
I agree with Melinda: this is clearly a reference to Greek myth via Botticelli in what many jokingly call “Venus on the Half-shell,” as if Venus is a tasty treat being offered up to the viewer. But, I see chains binding that half-shell to what looks like a submerged cemetery, and I notice that Nick’s frozen the scene with the line “If you wanna be a puppet” displayed, so I’m not sure if technology’s intervention in the representation is any more liberating than the beauty ideals conveyed in Botticelli’s painting. While Venus here seems to be performing the feminine in footware and make-up (as well as breasts and uncleaned mollusk shell), I keep wondering about the title, “Nonbinary.” Is it used as we might expect it to mean that beauty (and the figure representing it here) doesn’t fit into a gender binary? Or might it also mean rejecting the binary code that underpins technology that we turn to reshape us in a new image? In that case, it wouldn’t be very XF at all. It might not even be very pro-nonbinary. I realize I should watch the full video, which I’ll try to do tomorrow. 🙂
I’m with Ryan, here: I’ve always struggled a little at making sense of artists’ intentions and the broader social messages they’re trying to get across. But I particularly struggled with this one (perhaps because, embarrassingly, I don’t know much about the painting Melinda and Kelly referenced, apart from the appearance it made in the Simpsons…). But when I read around about the music video and the singer’s intentions, her quote actually made me feel a lot better about not knowing what to make of it, because I wonder whether that confusion – that attempt to defy categories – was intentional. “I’m asking for recognition that we have multiple selves without denying that there’s a singular unit,” Arca told Paper Magazine in a recent interview. “I want to be seen as an ecosystem of minor self-states without being stripped of the dignity of being a whole. It gives me the feeling of possibility, to not allow for easy categorisation.” https://i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/4agk53/arca-nonbinary-music-video-kick-i
Thanks for posting this question. This screenshot reminds me that nature does not see the construction of gender the way we do. There are some little gender symbols in the picture that we see whether it be the lipstick or the shoes or the hair. These are all our cultural codes. I think that Melinda brought up an excellent question about the need to define nature. I see nature in this case as happenings that are independent of human preference. But I’m certain that definition could be tweaked a lot! With this definition, gender is something that happens through nature but Arca is referring to the gender “codes” created by human preference.
Personally, these types of images are contradictory to me. I do not consider them binary, I always have the perception that they continue to move between the traditional image of the masculine and the feminine, playing with the interchange of the sexual and reproductive organs. It is curious to me, when a person decides to be binary and at the same time changes their image and goes to the other extreme (it is not a moral or ethical judgment) but sometimes they end up representing the ideal of traditional beauty, only with a sexual organ different?
I think that Arca is playing with the idea of the idealized woman here, Venus on the Half-Shell is a famous image of bodily perfection, as well as an idealized version of nature. Arca’s take seems to be that through the manipulations of technology, you no longer need to be bound to nature. There are shots in the video of Arca in what seems to be a gyno chair, being worked on by robots. It is both feminized and medical, yet suggests breaking free from those bounds.
Arca is so cool. I’m glad you posted this because Arca is also a connection that came to mind with the Xenofeminism manifesto- as a prior fan of Arca, some of these readings in the past week have helped me understand them as an artist in a deeper, nuanced way. I see Arca as inviting technology to interrupt gender, using technology to illuminate just how arbitrary the contemporary understanding of the “natural order” is. Arca is actively pushing against boundaries and engaging with technology and the human condition in disorienting ways- the quote Stephanie pulled illustrates that well. I see their goals somewhat in line with those of Xenofeminism.
I had never heard of Arca, so thanks for sharing this! Agreed with others before me: she’s using technology and art to push boundaries and break traditional molds of beauty and feminism. She sings, “What a treat it is to be nonbinary.” She’s celebrating it. The image you chose with her posing as Venus with the word “puppet” on the screen makes me think that she’s rejecting that sameness that everyone thinks is beauty. She feels bound by that in a way, but visually is breaking free from that. By reimagining feminism here, I do think it aligns with XF’s goal of rejecting nature.
Thank you so much for sharing this. I love this representation of non-binary that is mixed with technology. I think that by rejecting binaries of what is male/female, Arca is trying to create a new form of being that has technology as part of it, which I think that in a way is related to our week’s class readings.