Emails unfinished w Holly Childs + Max T.T. Edmond

, 21 August 2014

On first accessing Holly Childs and Max Trevor Thomas-Edmond’s Ellen Degeneres Beezin Topshop {preliminary materials} exhibition on the Life Gallery website, it appeared on my old MacBook as a series of ‘Server Authentication’ boxes floating across each other. Each of the Google docs comprising the exhibition had failed to load. It was serene yet commanding, each display message representing text existent but remote. When I finally did get things up and running, the structure of the looping docs demanded a higher level of concentration than I’ve become accustomed to for much of my online consumption. This call for alertness, attempting to pin down the link between each text, means the experience of the exhibition becomes as important as its content. The Internet connection necessary to do so also informed the creation of the texts themselves – part of an online, experimental discourse that makes up a series of collaborations Childs and Thomas-Edmond have been working on since October 2013. Using primarily Google docs and facebook chat discussions, they explore popular culture, gender, and fashion within truncated language that is written to be read, not spoken.

Holly Childs and Max T.T. Edmond, Nutri-Cream cocktail portraits of bend it leik mathu barni h&m ecosystem artists and guests @ Centre for Style (2014). Photo by Elliott Lauren. Courtesy the artists.
Holly Childs and Max T.T. Edmond, ‘Nutri-Cream’ cocktail portraits of bend it leik mathu barni h&m ecosystem artists and guests @ Centre for Style (2014). Photo by Elliott Lauren. Courtesy the artists.

Childs and Thomas-Edmond’s work looks at the way ideas intersect and overlap, and how and when they do so. Over a series of emails and another shared Google doc which the Melbourne and Auckland-based artist-writers invite me to join, they explain their participation in bend it leik mathu barni h&m eco system. It’s an event at the IRL Centre for Style gallery/store in Melbourne which, “came to surround Matthew Barney, David Beckham, h&m, migraines [and] Nutri-grain[…]resulting from our experimental/divinatory processes”, and whichleft the pair with scripts and planning discussions that remained unseen after the show. By giving this planning data unusual precedence in Ellen Degeneres Beezin Topshop {preliminary materials}, the notion of a complete text gets hazy, and the hierarchical order normally applied to the creative process becomes less concrete.

By choosing to correspond by email and answer my questions using a Google doc as opposed to a face to face, or even phone interview, conversation becomes an extension of the collaborative practice of Childs and Thomas-Edmond, privileging the non-verbal and allowing ideas to bump against each other and sometimes transform, with the same improvisational tone that characterizes their previous projects. It’s a back and forth that becomes a kind of palimpsest – where the artists add a strikethrough to an irrelevant part of a question, rather than removing it. Unsure “if conclusions are (ever) reached or if they are worth reaching in general”, they’re more interested in making space for the divergent meanings that might happen between hyper-abbreviated words in an exploratory brainstorm on the zeitgeist.

Holly Childs and Max T.T. Edmond, 'Ellen Degeneres Beezin Topshop {preliminary materials}' (2014) @ Life Gallery. Screen shot. Courtesy the artists.
Holly Childs and Max T.T. Edmond, Ellen Degeneres Beezin Topshop {preliminary materials} (2014) @ Life Gallery. Screen shot. Courtesy the artists.

The experience of the exhibition on screen reminds me of trying to consume text in many other ways online. Conscious of your eyes darting, trying to process different sources of information simultaneously. Why did you choose to layout the exhibition in looping shared Google docs?

Holly Childs + Max T.T. Edmond: Google docs is pretty central to our collaborative practice. We started online before we met IRL, so that was initially a means of writing together long distance though its also probably the best way to write together even if u in same room… so our work was already in google docs. We have a mass of work in many many google docs. Holly likes each one to have a really complex title + we had already done a couple of simpler things embedding google docs – like just one doc embedded over the top of a video of nature timelapse etc. It’s a way of presenting text preformatted. rich text.

Part of the process or structure of the IRL CfS event was that different artists would be doing different presentations/activities that disrupt, distort (etc.) each other, and that’s carried over by having different areas of text that overlap and interrupt each other at different points, different overlaps each time they cycle through. Presenting (text/whatever) in a decentralised way. Not having a designated point of focus.

You mention that you’re interested in looking at different interlinking ideas and textualities. What conclusions are reached/what is revealed in the intersections of the discursive formations of gender, fashion, celebrity and popular culture that you discuss?

H+M: These are maybe not the particular focus of this show, though they emerge through the way we talk about things and peripherally in many things we end up discussing. idk if conclusions are (ever) reached or if they are worth reaching in general. Conclusions seem to slow down discourse more than assist it because too static.

I guess we would hope that there are certain revelations/things revealed in (our) writing? Things that are maybe obscured by dominant modes of discourse, and deferred by dominant practices of development (of creative/intellectual produce…). By intersecting as many discourses as possible, at any opportunity. cos they can feed off/inform each other, at various different points of intersection.

How are these conclusions/revelations influenced by technology?

H+M: I guess that depends what kind of technology. There are different influences/distortions to be taken from all these different technologies. Maybe the purpose of technology being to enhance or facilitate or lubricate discourse/exchange – but each technology enhancing/facilitating in different ways by privileging different outcomes etc.

So, different technologies (would) allow (us) different forms of inter-pollination between discourses, and that fuels revelation in (our) writing. Blending and/or interlinking discursivities.

+ there are different ways to respond to/be influenced by different respective technologies. e.g. not everyone takes the internet as an opportunity to discourse or converse more fluidly; or less conservatively lol.

What’s more pervasive, nostalgia or irony?

H+M: In our work? Neither.
I guess they’re each pervasive in different areas of culture.
Ironic nostalgia seems pretty widespread.

I like the idea of people being prevented from fully engaging with online content by being present in the world. (#distractedbypresence) How does the notion of complicit consumption influence your work?

[By complicit consumption I meant the way most people embrace information created and shared on social media and other platforms, the lack of questioning/discernment in regards to such information, the benefits/worst aspects of such instant sharing, etc.]

H+M: I guess any form of presence creates its own brand of inability to engage (deeply or w/e). The focus on presence, on the present image, the visual, provable etc. Creating failures in connection or understanding. I guess there are many different ways to be #distractedbypresence which we could explore.

Holly Childs and Max T.T. Edmond, Ellen Degeneres Beezin Topshop {preliminary materials} (2014) @ Life Gallery. Screen shot. Courtesy the artists.
Holly Childs and Max T.T. Edmond, Ellen Degeneres Beezin Topshop {preliminary materials} (2014) @ Life Gallery. Screen shot. Courtesy the artists.

That instance refers to creating an online event, simultaneous with the CFS event, which would privilege absence from the event as the event revolved around disruptions, blindspots, holes, orifices etc. An event exclusively for absent “attendees” Anti-event [sub-event “bend it leik mathu barni h&m ecosystem“] hosted by Katherine Botten as her creative contribution to the event. To break down the idea that people present at the event, or present somewhere, are getting more than those absent – that presence is privileged over absence in general. So also, people are potentially inhibited from engaging with the exhibition online due to its recreation of presence/immediacy/realtime. It’s not a typical static reduced internet object but a moving/changing stream. It’s not typically accessible. Actually even the individual parts of text – if viewed statically – aren’t typically accessible lol.

This presence totally also applies to online activity, social media etc. People feel like they are being active or engaging by making something visible, or associating its presence with their presence – online presence. Sharing means something different to liking. “Liking” signifies more and less than liking? Posting links and receiving links posted by others. Everyone changing their prof pics to “=” sign to support gay marriage etc.

But presence in communication (not specifically on the internet) distracts people from really engaging with the issues IRL? in interpersonal, intercultural (etc.) situations and their actual practical politics/dynamics. Immersing in representations/presentations in communication to feel engaged is being #distractedbypresence.

I guess by making something less accessible, even if it might have ended up resembling a social media feed, either challenges people to engage or filters out people who aren’t prepared or motivated to engage.

Holly Childs and Max T.T. Edmond, 'Ellen Degeneres Beezin Topshop {preliminary materials}' (2014) @ Life Gallery. Screen shot. Courtesy the artists.
Holly Childs and Max T.T. Edmond, Ellen Degeneres Beezin Topshop {preliminary materials} (2014) @ Life Gallery. Screen shot. Courtesy the artists.

The sense that some parts of the text in Ellen Degeneres Beezin Topshop {preliminary materials} are the planning stage of an exhibition while at the same time comprising the exhibition itself reminds me of Chris KrausI Love Dick in that it too is a project within a text that shifts from personal to critical and breaks down barriers between the two. Would you agree? In what ways does this approach to creative process interest you?

H+M: Well, the text/script began as a plan for an event, as well as written material to be presented at the event, (whether or not that was prominent in the event lol). We are working on these different levels as we are writing. But most of the planning still visible in the texts online wasn’t for the show they’re presented in. It was for the event which preceded that show. So what you see online is even another extra degree removed/layer added, another doc added in, and also with some pictures from the first event that relate to and were performative of the script.

But we do generally have multiple things happening in a text. Or we don’t try to avoid having 4, 6, 100 (lol) different things moving in amongst each other thru a text. For decentralisation, nonrefinement, divination, potential etc. Not just between personal and critical obviously, but between any number of different things feeding into a text. That might tangentially arise from or collide with our writing/scripting of a text. I mean there aren’t really even barriers between concepts or sentences in our writing lol.

‘Preliminary’ implies there’s more to come – is there?

H+M: We are working on a book collaboratively. The series of events/presentations we’ve been working on is comprised of installments of content for the book, which is still being developed. All the writing we’ve presented so far is still being written and built up. We will keep giving these types of events/presentations, but when/whether this particular body of content will resurface is uncertain at this point. It may come up in other installments, if its relevant. But it’s also preliminary in its form. Decidedly unfinished, which is also potential. Maybe designating all work as preliminary. **

Holly Childs and Max T.T. Edmond’s Ellen Degeneres Beezin Topshop {preliminary materials} was on at London’s Life Gallery, running July 23 to August 20, 2014.

Header image: Alden Epp Holly Childs’ and Max Trevor Thomas Edmond’s nails all night. Post-production‘digital migraine auras’ by Dawn Marble. Concepts by distributed. Courtesy the artists.