In November 2021, Venezuelan musician and performance artist Arca released her eclectic music video for her two songs, “Prada” and “Rakata”. Its use of climate crisis imagery is bold yet nuanced.
Sparks fly in a dark, empty room. A statue of an unidentifiable (but very hench) animal is in the centre. A naked CGI version of Arca is provocatively riding the statue to an aggressively electronic reggaeton beat. Quickly, a camera pan reveals the transgender symbol burnt into the ground. The video, directed by 3D artist Frederik Heyman, is dense and intense and sees Arca in various scenarios, always as a divine trans being looking down on an apocalyptic, fiery world.
All this is typical for genre-defying musician and performance artist Arca, who is originally from Venezuela and lives in Barcelona. Celebrated for her groundbreakingly progressive style and unapologetic gender nonconformity, Arca is widely known in the industry and has collaborated with Kanye West, Björk, FKA twigs and Rosalía. The music video for “Prada/Rakata” was released in November 2021, ahead of Arca’s quadruple album drop. Like all things Arca, it is ambitious and shatters gender conventions in spectacular fashion. On top of that, we also encounter imagery that evokes the climate crisis several times throughout “Prada/Rakata”.
This might be surprising considering the intense focus on trans empowerment and sexual emancipation in both the video and the song’s lyrics. Still, several shots suggest a tangential connection to climate issues: The scene described in the beginning with its infernal wasteland; that’s one. Another one shows Arca in a laboratory, surrounded by cows forced to walk on a conveyor belt. Later, we see a stack of dead or at least distressed people, again in a fiery and electronic setting.
It’s an interesting question to ask where to place this dystopian world. Is this the future we’re all facing if we fail to handle the climate crisis? If you look directly at the sites of the climate emergency like large-scale slaughterhouses or the forest fires that we’ve seen all over California and Australia. In that case, Arca’s vision doesn’t look that unrealistic. Or could it be a metaphor for the dystopia that genderqueer people live and have lived through every day of their lives? We can’t answer this question, and that’s the point.
Arca presents a clear answer to the vision of climate apocalypse she presents: Herself or rather, her technologically enhanced self. For her, the answer lies in transhumanism or posthumanism. In one shot, we see the word ‘posthuman’ lasered into a metal plate next to the word ‘second puberty’ – a term often used as a synonym for gender transitioning. As a philosophical concept with strong ties to feminism, transhumanism is the belief that humanity is meant to change and improve through technology.
One branch of this is post-genderism, meaning the dismantling of the gender binary and the patriarchy through neuro- and biotechnology. In an interview with Dazed, Arca explains why this idea doesn’t seem alien to her at all. As a trans woman, technology in the form of hormone replacement therapy is a primary way to battle gender dysphoria. Transhumanism isn’t scary or unknown, because by embracing technology, it has “saved her life”.
On Twitter, she lovingly refers to herself and her fans as mutants, showing her deep appreciation of the tools she has available to express her identity. Interestingly, Arca doesn’t seem to suffer from her environmentally ravaged surroundings in “Prada/Rakata”. Rather, she seems completely unbothered and above them, with good reason. From first-hand experience, she knows the transformative power of technology.
Still, it would be a reach to argue that “Prada/Rakata” is proposing the same trust in technology to solve climate issues. Too strong is the transgender imagery that gives a clear direction on how to interpret what’s on-screen. What’s left is a shared vocabulary of the apocalypse. Considering that feminists are saying loud and clear that the patriarchy and its related ideologies of expansion, competition and toxic masculinity are widely responsible for the climate crisis, this is no surprise. The shared vocabulary of apocalypse stems from a shared root cause: Patriarchy.
Through technology, Arca has found a way to transcend the hellscape of heteronormativity. For the hellscape that is the climate emergency, it could do the same, yet only time will tell. But can we afford to wait, and see? How many apocalypses do we need before we tackle the problem at its roots and dismantle the patriarchy? In “Prada/Rakata”, Arca tells us to go out, to be feminist, and to be unapologetic in standing up for ourselves, no matter the hostile environment around us. Then, good things will follow.