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Who is Jesse Kanda?

Overview of His Work

Animator, artist and musician Jesse Kanda is known for his juxtaposition of images of both the beautiful and the grotesque. According to a 2018 WeTransfer article, Kanda’s common themes include “growth, decay, death, freedom, fantasy, empathy, dream, innocence, subconscious, sexuality, sensuality, pain, suffering, euphoria, the body, movement and magic”.


Early Life and Background

Born in Kanagawa, Japan in 1987, Jesse Kanda grew up partly in Canada, and told Dazed magazine in 2014: “What’s fascinating to me is the pure intelligence you have in childhood – you say and do everything as soon as you see it. It’s the age when you’re closest to your subconscious too, because you’re not yet affected by the adult. The subconscious filters into everything we do, every day. It’s part of everything: it’s where all the secrets come from, where art comes from, where anything fascinating or interesting is. If somebody sees something that is undeniably brilliant, it’s probably something that came from a spark within the subconscious. Kids are so honest, too. I gravitate towards people who are boldly themselves. What’s the point if it’s not truthful? People are at their most interesting when they’re being honest.”


Influences on Jesse Kanda

In November 2019, the artist told Dazeddigital: “The biggest influence was growing up in Japan – in contemporary society it’s manga, anime, and video games – and all of this lies on the shoulders of a hugely rich tradition of ‘bi’ (beauty) and the effort toward it. Artists like Hayao Miyazaki, Yoshitaka Amano, Matsumoto Taiyo, Yuasa Masaaki, Takeshi Kitano, Hosoe Eikoh, Tatsumi Hijikata, Kazuo Ohno, Hideaki Anno, Kurosawa Akira, I mean the list is countless… but these are some of the artists that have moved me since young and I hope my work kind of somehow fits in this sort of lineage. If they make up a tree, I’m a little young branch on the tip.”


Creative Vision Behind His Work

From Visual Artist to Music Video Director FKA twigs (beginning in 2013)

According to superrare.com: ‘[I]n 2013, then relatively unknown FKA twigs released a music video directed and animated by Jesse Kanda called “How’s That”. Headless floating bodies melted into each other to the pulse of the music, contorting and expanding into alien forms. At once erotic, heart-aching and sci-fi, this video and a long list of successive works by Kanda would inspire a new generation of young artists through his expression of raw vulnerability and ingenuity through digital art.”


“In his iconic video for FKA twigs ‘Water Me’ (2013), he depicts her as a bobbing head. She produces a single tear drop which falls on herself, making her grow. This visual poetry is evident throughout all of his work.”



Arca

Jesse Kanda met Arca (Alejandro Ghersi) “on a DeviantArt forum when Kanda was 15 and Arca was 13”. The two have been frequent collaborators and housemates for many years. According to an article in thefader.com: “As Ghersi started devoting an increasing amount of time to recording music of his own, constructing rudimentary IDM songs on Fruity Loops, Kanda evolved from just another icon on his growing buddy list to his primary creative sounding board. “He was always just like a second pair of eyes, you know? Or a second pair of ears. It was a big community of us. Most people on DeviantART were doing the same thing. Kind of escaping, you know?”


Thievery

Their first collaboration, for Arca’s debut album “Xen”, was on the song “Thievery”, and featured a dancing CGI figure, “Xen”. As described in xsnoize: “…Xen is also a girl whose skin ripples and twists as she dances.”


Now You Know

As described in Stereogum, Kanda’s next collaboration with Arca, was “Now You Know”: “The new clip for the lurching, staggering instrumental “Now You Know” starts out as a drone’s-eye view of a nighttime cityscape, as fireworks explode all around it. Those fireworks, and everything else, are presumably CGI, since they flash right along with moments in the song, and since the laws of physics go out the window quickly. It’s a dense kaleidoscope of a video….”


MOMA PS1 2013

In an overview of the artist in pretty bird.co, the artist’s PS1 collaboration with Arca is detailed: “An excerpt of his film TRAUMA, part of an ongoing project with frequent collaborator Arca, was exhibited at MoMA PS1 in 2013 to rave reviews by New York’s finest. The film features Jesse’s mesmerizing visual style and has been shown in its entirety in various galleries throughout the world since its premiere. Jesse continues to take the helm for much of Arca’s content, including the recent music videos for the artist’s tracks “Anoche,” “Reverie,” and “Desafío.”


Aesthetic Beauty in His Videos

Bjork, Mouth Mantra

In Dazed, Aurora Mitchell wrote of Björk’s 2016 video for “Mouth Mantra”: The fuschia insides of a pulsating mouth are staring back at me, sharp, shadowy white teeth warping and rotating with the surrounding flesh. Specks of saliva are dotted around, glistening with a fierce sheen.

Watching the inside of a mouth can feel unsettling, nauseating, and confusing, but it’s also fascinating being shown the workings of a part of the body that we’re not normally able to see. This is not just any person’s mouth though – it’s Björk’s."


As Kanda told Dazed: “The mouth, being Björk’s vessel from which she expresses her primary art, inspired me to try to do something with that. What I wanted to do was get all up in there. In the research phase, we were looking at all sorts of different tiny little cameras and endoscopes. It’s funny because it seems really obvious now, because the song is called ‘Mouth Mantra’…. What we had to do was build a mouth that was four feet by four feet by four feet. It’s really amazing. The incredible animatronics artist John Nolan’s studio made this animatronic model of Björk’s actual mouth. So they moulded her mouth and enlarged it, sculpted it, painted it, and then made it into a robot that would open and close and the tongue would move.”


Arisen My Senses

For her album “Utopia” (2018), Bjork enlisted Jesse Kanda for the video. The project was described in wetransfer thusly: “For Arisen My Senses, Björk and Jesse Kanda drew on a strange and beautiful set of influences. “A couple of years ago, this giant unidentified creature washed up in Indonesia,” Jesse explains. “It was this gorgeous mound of white skin and fat and flesh in a pool of blood on a sunny beach. That really moved me – like total awe. It was the combination of something so catastrophic being so beautiful at the same time, the mystery and fantasy of what it actually was, and the connection to the grander ecological context. Björk had been playing a video of leopard slugs mating at her concerts, so I knew she and I both loved that as an image. And another kind of obsession I keep coming back to is amniotic sacks, and making sculptural work that depicts birth and death. But this is the first time I did birth, death and mating at the same time.”


It’s a testament to Björk’s legacy that it’s not surprising to hear that in her new video she appears inside an enormous, writhing, alien-slug sculpture. What is surprising is that there is someone in London called Tristan Schoonraad who is the go-to man for making enormous, writhing, alien-slug sculptures.”


Chris Cunningham “Controversy”

When artist Chris Cunningham was accused of plagiarism for his artwork on the cover for “The Horrors” (2017), Jesse Kanda released the following statement (as reported by ra.co): “At first I felt a bit territorial," the statement read. "And since people were defending my work, I unsympathetically found it amusing to watch. But when I started seeing a few people accusing some of my work [of] being just as similar to some of Chris Cunningham's work, who had collaborated with The Horrors before, my stance shifted... and I am so grateful for this." He also wrote: "I will always hold in the highest regard the struggle and pleasure of finding ones' unique voice as an artist. That said, in defense of both The Horrors and I, as well as every artist ever, sometimes we might step on each other's toes, but that's actually out of love and admiration, coincidence, or even unconscious echoing too.”


Music Industry Contributions

Influence on the Electronic Music Scene

Beginning in 2017, Jesse Kanda began creating music under the name Doon Kanda, producing the EP’s “Heart” and “Luna”. In 2019, Pitchfork wrote of his debut LP, “Labyrinth”: “His debut LP as Doon Kanda, Labyrinth, is the aural equivalent. While his first two minimalist EPs, 2017’s Heart and last year’s Luna, were fluid and open-ended, the full-length is engraved with baroque detail. Kanda wrote the majority of Labyrinth in triple meter, a time signature common to formal dance styles like the waltz. He envisions “venues transformed into an alien world” through the dissonant force of his music, but the result is more camp than alien. Opener “Polycephaly,” with its lush synthetic piano, sounds like it could back a nightmare sequence in a gothic horror movie. “Dio” begins with a throbbing beat and machine-like whir before synthetic strings rise up and distort, melting like the twisted bodies that populate Kanda’s visual works. It’s the sound of glamorous decay, and by oozing over the beat, the strings rebel against the rigid formality of the meter, almost throwing it off. The force of the waltz is unbreakable, though, and continues on nearly uninterrupted to closer “Entrance.”


Over the course of its thirteen tracks, Labyrinth loosely chronicles growing anxiety and its dissolution, peaking at “Mino” before settling into a level of serenity at “Bunny.” Kanda is most successful when he interrupts the album’s emotional arc; “Wing” is the first track that departs from triple meter, and consists only of humming synths and the sound of fluttering insect wings. It introduces a more quiet chaos than that of the highly ornamented tracks that surround it. On “Pieridae,” the album’s omnipresent synthetic strings slide around skittering percussion without overwhelming the piece. “Search,” the comedown after “Mino,” features eerie synths and a metallic ring, like something gone awry in the engine of an ancient car. The album’s slower moments allow the music to catch up to its own strangeness.


Labyrinth is not just a musical project; it comes complete with ten visual works, showing Kanda’s emphasis on world-building. The characters rendered in those works are smooth and slick, made of something like flesh or polished stone. The winged figure on the cover of the album is bone-white and pocked with cavernous holes, windows into an inside that’s largely empty. There’s a softness in its pose that counteracts the uncanny form; though it stands erect, its head is slightly bowed, hands gesturing toward prayer. That softness manifests in the music, present in the sweeping, darkly sweet melodies of “Nastasya” and “Bunny.” In these moments of pleasure with discomfort hovering beneath, Kanda reaches synthesis between his visual and musical universes.”


Galatea (2022)

Kanda’s follow-up LP proved difficult to find commercial criticism for. On the site 100words.uk, a fan had this to report: “I don’t know if Doon Kanda’s music sounds more like a crude, AI generated amalgam of all the clubs in Berlin, or a rave for deep sea creatures. His artwork is certainly a grotesque mix of the two. *snaps fingers* You know what Doon’s art is like? It’s like if a 12th century sacrilegious nightmare was put into Aphex Twin’s ransacked studio. No, that’s still not it. For those that care to bear this album, there will be mechanical beauty and speculative texture combinations. As kinetic as 2018’s Luna, and more melodious than 2019’s Labyrinth, Galatea shows Kanda as stubborn, stylised, and full of wonder.”


Celest (2023)

On musicboard.app, the writer “whatsupdorian” said of Doon Kanda’s 2023 release “Celest”: “Doon Kanda's album "Celest" offers a musical journey imbued with beauty and delicacy. Delightful piano melodies create a captivating atmosphere from the very first notes. However, as the listening progresses, it becomes clear that the extreme use of the piano can be both a strength and a weakness of this album.”


“The compositions are undeniably beautiful, with melodies that evoke celestial images and dreamlike landscapes. The artist has mastered the art of creating evocative moods through the use of piano, creating an immersive and enchanting atmosphere. However, the album suffers from a certain repetitiveness. Piano motifs are often repeated from track to track, creating a feeling of déjà-vu and a certain weariness.”


“Although the melodies are pleasing to the ear, their excessive use can sometimes dilute their impact, giving the impression that the artist is going in circles rather than offering a genuine musical progression. Despite this repetitiveness, there are strong moments in the album when the artist manages to fully captivate. These moments are often marked by rhythmic variations or the addition of interesting sound textures that break the monotony. But these moments of brilliance are sometimes too rare to hold the listener's attention throughout.”


“All in all, Doon Kanda's "Celest" is an album that shines with beauty and delicacy, thanks to the use of piano to create celestial atmospheres. However, its excessive use of piano can make

the album repetitive and diminish its impact. Despite this, the album's highlights offer moments of pure musical magic. This is an album recommended for lovers of contemplative music, but it's best savored in smaller doses to fully appreciate its splendor.”


References

dazeddigital.com

“Jesse Kanda on the beauty of organs, loneliness and new album Labyrinth” November 29, 2019

Jessica Canjemanaden

wetransfer.com

Arisen My Senses —a a video by Bjork, Jesse Kanda and Arca”

ibbonline.com

“Björk and Jesse Kanda Explain Their Creative Chemistry in WeTransfer Documentary Series”

dazeddigital.com

“Jesse Kanda profile”

Monique Todd

dazeddigital.com

“Arca: Xen master”

Thomas Gorton

December 19th, 2014

itswide.com

“Jesse Kanda: Some thoughts on the beauty out of the uncanny valley”

dazeddigital.com

Interview: “Jesse Kanda: child’s play”

Thomas Gorton

June 19th, 2014

wikiwand.com

Profile: Jesse Kanda

wikipedia.org

Jesse Kanda

redbull.com

Music video director Jesse Kanda on inspiration and his favorite artists” Uppy Chatterjee

May 31, 2018

thefader.com

“FKA Twigs And Arca Collaborator Jesse Kanda Got Low-Key Nominated For A Grammy” Aimee Cliff

February 7, 2015

thefader.com

“Footnotes: Jesse Kanda on the Art HeCreated for Arca’s Xen”

Ruth Saxleby

October 7, 2014

doonkanda.bandcamp.com

Doon Kanda

“Labyrinth”

sivasdescalzo.com

“Soon Kanda, There Is Life Beyond Jesse”

imdvv.com

Jesse Kanda profile

dazeddigital.com

Behind the scenes of Björk’s 360-degree ‘Mouth Mandra’ video” Aurora Mitchell

September 14th, 2016

thefader.com

“Cover Story: Arca Finds Xen”

Emilie Friedlander

September 30, 2014

xsnoize.com

“Arca Premieres ‘Thievery’ Video Created by Jesse”

superrare.com

“Jesse Kanda: Vulnerability is essential for connection and creativity” Paloma

April 12, 2021

stereogum.com

“Arca —‘Now You Know’ Video”

Tom Breihan

October 31, 2014

ra.com

“Jesse Kanda responds to The Horrors dispute”

Ray Philip

June 15, 2017

prettybird.co

Jesse Kanda - artist profile

pitchfork.com

“Review: Labyrinth — Soon Kanda”

Colin Lodewick

December 6, 2019

100words.uk

“Doon Kanda - Galatea”

musicboard.app “Review: Celest” Whatsupdorian

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