kesh, into the woods
Graphic pop artist, DJ and collaborator with American Apparel, Kesh, turned her back on the world in 2013 to live deep in a forest. Tonight she returns and i-D have the exclusive...
Posing in knee-high, black Doctor Martens, army bomber jacket and black beret pulled to one side, 27-year-old Kesshia Kumari aka e-star Kesh is ready for combat. Today, actually, because her one-night-only art exhibition opens tonight at Art Basel in Miami and we've got the exclusive words and pictures from the woman herself. Recently turned recluse, Kesh, who rose to underground fame via the nu-rave and grime scene in London with names such as Dizzee Rascal and Roll Deep, packed up her atelier in LA nicknamed 'The Cave' and moved to woods deep in Northern California to recoup her creative energies and sharpen focus. We hiked up a long trail, tracked down a signal and drew the artist out for a rare talk about her life, her inspirations, her latest art project W@WW (W/hat @re W/e W/orshipping) and what's rocking her world right here, right now.
You became famous when you were a teenager in a very DIY way. Looking back, what do you think it was you were looking for / looking to express?
I can't say it was fame. It was an interest from a number of people. But not fame. At that moment in time I was simply exploring, looking for escape; looking for an alternate path to the cemented route usually taken in my hometown. I used what skills I had to get away and I shared them with whoever wanted to watch. I was a child of the internet. Social networks were already a big thing, so sharing my experiences through the internet seemed natural. It turned out that a lot more people were interested than expected. I was experiencing freedom. No rules. From making clothes, to DJ'ing around the world, to working at SuperSuper magazine, to throwing raves. I was on one. I was free. I think that's why people paid attention.
You moved from The Cave to the Woods, tell us how you felt on the day you left the Cave for the last time...
It was emotional. I began with a huge empty box, and that's how I left it. Starting with minimal possessions, I filled it up, idea by idea and experience by experience. When the time came, I had to pack it away and bring it back to the empty box it once was. So the deconstruction process provoked a lot of emotion. I figured it all out in that place. I figured out who I am now and what I do. I locked myself away, defined my vision and made my very first show there. The Cave holds a special place in my heart. But after time my mind moved forward. I finished up The Cave chapter with the American Apparel collaboration, returned from the tour and packed everything. In the final moments I took off my clothes and lay alone in the empty space, letting go of my attachments to it. Saying goodbye. Then I got up, got dressed, grabbed my stuff, jumped in the car and left LA and headed to the woods. It was time to move away from the city. The people. The distractions. The noise. I needed to focus. I was tired of the surface. It was time to go deeper.
Has isolation been necessary to create? Why?
For this chapter yes, isolation was necessary. Disconnect to Reconnect. I stepped away from the chaos and distractions to observe things from a different point of view. When standing blissfully in the eye of the storm you can't see how big and destructive it really is. A different perspective helped me analyze and interpret my thoughts into form. The disconnection gave me insight into the question I am asking: W/HAT @RE W/E W/ORSHIPPING? The removal of mass media, crowds and indulgence in my own life helped me formulate the start of the answer. I don't think it's something I could have made whilst immersed in the chaos.
Are you really living in the woods? Can you describe your new place, what it looks like, the surroundings?
You're not the first to ask me if I am really living here, and I keep wondering why? It's weird. It's like fake reality, scripted reality, pre planned reality in media become so overbearingly common that real adventures become hard to believe in. Is that what it is? It seems that way. I'm living it. I'm out here. My place is deep in. The nearest town is 40 minutes away. It's at the end of three dirt roads and sometimes I can't even walk around at night because of a mountain lion that's decided to hunt behind my studio. True story. It's very next level. I am chopping wood, riding quads, climbing trees, jumping into freezing rivers and wearing ski masks because it's fucking cold. At this point in time this is my life. And it's amazing.
We're loving the new guerilla images that are happening on your instagram... Give us five words to describe your current mood.
Thank you. <3
My words are:
These are five titles from my show which reflect my mood.
Do you create at a desk, if so what is usually on it?
I make most of my work on my computer so I always need a desk. Right now on my desk there are a few things. A really shit printer that's pissing me off. A book from 1986 titled LIVING WITH COMPUTERS. A set of headphones. A massive hard drive. Some rocks I found by the river. A stack of handwritten notes. A picture of an amazing lady named AMMA encased in perspex. A magazine cut-out of a brain and a picture of Steve Jobs.
How important is music to your creative process?
Music is important to me. It feeds my thoughts. Nourishes my mind. Soundtracks my highs and lows. And now I have discovered my ability to create it. Making sound is a new outlet for me and one I am exploring with this new work. With the videos I created to accompany the work I gave myself an hour to produce the track that accompanies the message. I use a simple combination of sounds and vocals to make the piece. I have been making music for about a month or two now and it's been an interesting development. I guess I've been putting together sounds in my head for years now so it had to come out eventually. The mind is a powerful thing. You can process and develop sounds, patterns, loops, contrasts and so on without touching a scrap of technology. Then when you do, it's magic. I'm talking with Zomby about doing something with his label CULT. In my eyes, he is a musical genius so his appreciation of my sound is an honor in itself. As I get closer to the show the night is mine. I watch the sun rise as I walk to my bed. The night has always been better for me since I was a child. It's quiet. America is asleep. Less energy is being used. I think that contributes to it. It's like when 20 people are using the same wifi and the connection is slow. That's my brain. Once the night comes and millions of people are no longer sucking up energy my mind flows freely.
Do you think that the art world recognises you?
Not yet. And considering the facts, why should they? I'm young, have no art education, come from no money, am an ethnic minority and a female. I tick none of the boxes. But this is the digital age. Boxes no longer need to be ticked. I'm not trying to kick down their door and take the mic. I'm speaking to people in my own way. If invited into that world, I'd be happy to attend. If not, it won't stop me.
Text Sarah Hay