Kaki King returns with ‘Data Not Found’

On Sunday, guitarist Kaki King took to the stage of the Ferst Center for one of her signature multimedia performances, which incorporate digital projections and a variety of instruments. // Photo courtesy of Georgia Tech Arts

Artist, composer and guitarist Kaki King returned to her hometown of Atlanta, and to Tech, on Saturday night to showcase “Data Not Found,” a mesmerizing performance on love, loss and hope.

The multimedia show is also multi-dimensional, incorporating physical elements — like instruments and a large white tent — with digital projections to tell a story; but it does not stray too far from King’s passion for guitar.

“I’m grounding my body in the instrument itself, and then I start layering on top of that,” King said. “I’m trying to see how far we can push the media before it’s irrelevant and useless, but I still think that grounding it in the music, and in the playing, is what helped hold it together.”

King uses her musical prowess to incorporate different instruments from drums to guitars, accompanied by a steady monologue to tell various stories, all personal to King but told in a way that resonates with the audience.

The performance is nature-inspired, projections reference waves on the sand washing away both the material items and memories that slowly disappear with the loss of a person. The images of flowers in bloom and decay also appear in perfect rhythm with King’s instrumentals.

“Data Not Found” was last performed in 2019; the coronavirus pandemic changed the way that King views the show and her art. During the performance, King enters a large white tent and plays while sitting in a pile of sand. This point in the show, she says, is when she would usually tell a sad story, but she decided to switch it up because, with the pandemic, “there have been too many sad stories.”

She instead tells the audience about her process of dealing with the pandemic and the possibility of never being able to perform live in front of an audience again.

“I had this incredible amount of gratitude for what I did have; it was so unlikely for me to ever have a career in this weird guitar thing that I do,” King said. “And then I thought, okay, I should do all the things I ever wanted to do.”

King also talked about how she used this break to fulfill her other passions, like getting a degree in horticulture, joining the PTA, getting tattoos and becoming a “character in the neighborhood.” As live performances started up again, King says that she accepted her new state but was ultimately happy to return to the stage.

“There’s no way I’m going to be as good with what I do in a virtual format. I have to have people to push me like the audience has to be there,” she said.

“My focus is there and it’s for them and it’s a shared experience. And that’s really what coming back into performance has taught me.”

King does not think that it is possible to ignore what has happened these past couple of years or even look at anything from the same lens as before.

“When I talk about loss, or when I talk about someone who has died, I’m thinking of people who died in COVID-19,” she said. “I think the world is just a vastly different place, and it has to be acknowledged, at the very least addressed.”

“Data Not Found” deals with loss through music, monologues and projections, but it also helps the audience to reflect on the patterns that they themselves leave behind.