In his 1996 paper Standing In The Spaces: The Multiplicity Of Self And The Psychoanalytic Relationship, American psychologist Philip Bromberg suggested the understanding of the human mind was shifting away from the idea that there is a single self, and towards a view of the self as decentered. In his research, now widely popularized, selfhood was "a configuration of shifting, nonlinear, discontinuous states of consciousness in an ongoing dialectic with the healthy illusion of unitary selfhood." Put more simply, Bromberg believed our sense of "me" is made up of multiple "self-states."
Perhaps no artist explores this concept more than Alejandra Ghershi. As Arca, the Venezuela-born, Barcelona-based producer and performer has spent the last decade eluding categories across genre, format and identity. With her art and personality, Ghersi does not hold back, resulting in a brilliant body of work built on chaos and contrast. She has produced for mega stars like Kanye West and Björk, while staying true to the digital queer underground. She sings like an eloquent and old world romantic, while producing psycho beat tapes and futuristic noise. She creates cutting-edge performance art for galleries, while filling her Instagram with chihuahua memes.
Over the past year or so, what Ghersi shares has only grown more chaotic. This is because she has ramped up her social media presence, taking to livestreaming as an informal medium to connect with her fans, known as Mutants. On Instagram Live, Ghersi drops new music and gets real about her experience transitioning to being a non-binary trans woman. On Twitch, a channel she started during lockdown, she experiments with all kinds of sensory overload, from ASMR and Final Fantasy streams, to Ableton sessions and hours-long live sets full of unreleased Arca deep cuts. Perhaps most intimate, though, is the Mutants1000000 Discord server, a community where Ghersi regularly participates as an admin, overseeing channels like #feral-entropy, #identity-philosophy and #español.
None of this comes off like press or performance as we know it. Ghersi's content is as unorganized and unruly as a teen on TikTok, yet her freeform sense of being incites a mysterious sense of wonder. Even if the content of her glitchy videos can be rambling and uneventful, it is never dull—the thrill is watching pieces of Ghersi's personality unfold. After all, a personality can be more fluid, absorbing and provocative than the most complex piece of art.
This is important to keep in mind when listening to Ghersi's new and fourth studio album, KiCK i. Viewed one way, it's the artist's love-filled entry into pop, where dissonant sounds and styles rub up against each other at a freaky party, made even more fantastic by its featured guests: Björk, SOPHIE, SHYGIRL and Rosalía. But viewed another way, the album is a story of intense psychological processing and self-discovery. "Speak for your self-states," Ghersi raps on opener "Non-Binary." In the lead-up to KiCK i's release, we had 30 minutes to chat on Zoom, where Ghersi sat joyfully amid a digital rainbow and went deep on identity, philosophy and the multiplicity of the self.
Tell me about your Discord server.
Yeah! I'm the admin. I used to be a moderator and admin on forums and like 2D MMOS when I was a teenager. I never thought I would return to that, but the lockdown world brought me back to my nerdy roots.
I found out about it from watching your Twitch streams. Let's start there. Can you tell me about your channel and why you started it?
I'd been talking about it for a while. I would tease this idea of wanting to share my love of gaming, specifically. Paradoxically I've done a couple of video game streams, but mostly I've been using it for music performance and kind of like a talk show. It combines a lot of things that I'm passionate about. Interactivity and communication is something that I love between audiences and, you know, anyone on any kind of stage. Because there's this potential for the stream—the broadcast, the show, the transmission—to surprise the person putting it on. That's something I really relish. This idea of not being in control, of there being some chaos, some entropy and connection.
When the lockdown started, I was really craving connecting with my audiences and just connecting with people. When I grew up, I would put on shows for my family. You know, very typical, I loved entertaining people and feeling that attention. There's pros and cons to that, that idea of feeling like performing in front of an audience gives you life. That can be as healing and therapeutic as it can be scary and isolating sometimes. I've gone through all kinds of ups and downs and phases. An extreme example of ways in which it's scary is, like, sometimes on stage I'll go into these weird trances. Maybe I'll self-harm a little bit on stage and people are just like, "Oh it's just part of the show." But there's an acting out element, you know? For me at least. There's an element of acting out and then making sense of the show afterwards. It's a very powerful thing.
I see performance as a ritual. A pre-linguistic ritual that has a lot of connective power. In some sense, I just felt it was silly to exclude Twitch and livestreaming from having any kind of correlation or relation to ritual. Because I think the fact that it's immediate and spontaneous really lends itself to have the potential to be meaningful, both for people tuning in and for people streaming. I mean, Twitch started as a lifecasting service, did you know that?
Where people stream 24-hours of their lives?
Yeah. Like kind of a voyeuristic kind of thing.
Would you do that?
Mmm... No. But I would be into some durational things. That's also part of why I like Twitch. Because sometimes I go on tour and hop on a tour bus and then a plane and then do the soundcheck and then a hotel. And, like, all that just for one hour of a show? Sometimes it felt crazy. Sometimes you don't even know how long your set time is until you're about to go on stage or something. The festival's like, "Oh your slot's 50 minutes." Or, "Oh your slot's two hours." It's not as important. Some festivals cram more acts. The freedom of not having to know when the stream ends and starts is actually quite liberating. There's lots of things about it that are kind of unique. I'm interested in it.
Are you afraid to show your raw personality on something like a livestream? Or is it the same feeling as when you're performing?
Honestly, the reason I had the bravery to go for streaming with abandon was because I feel more comfortable being raw than I do pre-packaging myself. When I did the Mutant;Faith shows at The Shed, there were no setlists. That was kind of a big thing for me. I didn't want to be in control. I was really tired of it. I had this feeling, like, if you have a setlist that's airtight, it kind of tends to work, but in the way that a really functional storytelling film works. You know? There's kind of classic things that lead to catharsis. Dynamics. A moment of silence before a very loud moment tends to make the loud moment feel louder and the silence feel more silent. I was feeling a little bit like a robot. Even if the audiences seemed to be happy, sometimes I would feel a little bit hollow inside because I didn't want to feel like I was manipulating the audience by using different techniques and effects that tend to elicit emotional reactions. I actually wanted to be in the audience. Or I wanted to include the audience in the creative act rather than just carrying out a script.
If anything, sometimes I have a problem and I overshare. When I tend to talk to my analyst, it's like, "Oh you can keep that for yourself. You don't have to put everything into the performance." I think it's a yin and yang. If you're more on the side of being really overprotective and being afraid to be vulnerable, it serves you well to try to open up a little bit. But there's also an opposite to that, which is like hyper-vulnerability. It can be as distancing as isolation. Because then you don't really know how to draw boundaries. So I think it's a nice tension to try to think of as a performing artist. We're not just one or the other. We oscillate back and forth.