The cerebral artist took over three floors at the new SSENSE MONTRÉAL space
If you’ve ever seen Arca perform live, you’ll know his shows are a full-blown assault on the senses. Whether he’s striding across the stage in mechanical hooves, writhing on the floor in a matador jacket and jockstrap, or throwing himself into the audience to immerse fans completely into his radical vision, the musician has carved himself a niche as one of the most transgressive, boundary-pushing artists around today. But last week, his appearance at the launch of SSENSE’s new physical space in Montréal took it to the next level – literally.
Set across three floors in the stark, David Chipperfield-designed building and presented as part of a collaboration with Prada, Tormenta saw Arca grapple with security guards before being led up the store’s concrete staircase, the long swathes of rope that were knotted and wrapped around his body flowing out behind him. The next 90 minutes saw him confined in a cage on the space’s upper floor, entangled in a huge sculpture, and beckoning the camera to follow him, as screens on the levels below displayed CCTV footage of his visceral performance. It was, he said afterwards, inspired by the intensity of a hurricane, and the personal and emotional fallout of being caught up in a particularly frightening storm.
Tormenta is the first of a diverse line-up of events that will take place at the space. Speaking after Arca’s incredible performance, Joerg Koch – founder of 032c and editor-in-chief of ssense.com – summed up the brand’s approach to it’s first physical space and what lies in store for those planning to check it out. “SSENSE doesn’t have a legacy yet, which means we can be very free with what we do,” he explained. “We’ve been able to come up in this space like a wide-eyed child and just be curious about everything. We’re looking at it as a cultural centre, there are no restrictions around what we can do. So we could have Arca perform across three floors, or we could also have a book club in the cafe that’s moderated by one of the editors, or lectures, or a meditation centre, or we could do a project with Virgil (Abloh) where we recreate his studio.” Also on the horizon are a series of takeovers, installations, and exhibitions.
And according to founder Rami Atallah, having an artist like Arca kick the cultural experiences off was a no-brainer. “We’ve always championed the people that are challenging the system and coming up with their own viewpoint,” he explains. “Those are the people driving culture forward, and those are the people we want to support.” Since it launched in 2003, SSENSE has pushed brands including Off-White, Vetements, and Gosha Rubchinskiy out to a global audience, creating tidal waves of hype along the way. The website’s first incarnation was coded by Atallah himself.
With SSENSE MONTRÉAL set to open its doors tomorrow, and the cultural line-up due for release soon, we caught up with Arca to discuss the concept behind Tormenta, the importance of personal experience when performing, and embracing the store’s expansive spaces.
ON HIS INSTINCTUAL APPROACH TO PERFORMANCE
“I’ve always had a hard time knowing why I’m putting myself out there in a particular way, so really I’m still making sense of Tormenta. For me, a lot of the scenes that I’m working with are personal and can sometimes be a little overwhelming. I just try to trust my instincts, and I spend a lot of time working hard to make sure it’s not self-harm or self-mutilation that I’m doing in front of people, but rather an expression of things that I wouldn’t be able to air out in my day-to-day. A lot of it is things that I’m trying to unbury that I might have buried during particular moments of my life. It’s recovering every part of me and trying not to edit it. When I perform, I’m trying to let all of my selves sit together.”
ON THE CONCEPT
“The idea was that the show would be centred around the idea of a hurricane, so a hurricane hits and the second floor – the middle floor – is love, like the eye of the storm. I’ve worked with recordings of rain and storms for a long time, and I think that most people that have been in a really frightening storm will agree that it’s a very private and personal and almost sensual experience, but at the same time it’s also universal and shared. There’s also something very cleansing about storms: you know, after you’ve braced it you can take deeper breaths than you did before it hit.”
ON THE NAME TORMENTA
“When the storm is over and you’re making your way out, you’re different after your contact with it. You left it, and it left you, but you kind of carry it with you. It’s a beautiful thing, this convolution of danger and love – it’s a reminder of what it is to be alive. Kind of an appreciation of life that often happens when you’ve been exposed to danger. So the name for me felt very fitting.”
ON NAVIGATING THE SPACE
“When I saw the new SSENSE space, for me it was about collapsing the relationship between the audience and the artist. In a traditional concert venue there’s a safety that the audience has. They don’t feel like they can be fucked with, and they can just passively drink it all in. With Tormenta I was really interested in playing with the fourth wall breaking through the surveillance and surveilling those surveilling me. The space itself lends itself perfectly to that, it’s really beautiful.”
SSENSE MONTRÉAL opens on May 3, find out more here.