Holly Childs and Gediminas Žygus are releasing album Gnarled Roots via Subtext Recordings on September 17, with preview track ‘Forking’ premiering on AQNB today. The record is a follow-up to the group’s Hydrangea release and is the next in a series of works on cinema, politics, and fiction.
Gnarled Roots explores contradiction in circumstances without preferable options, a theme explicitly developed on the duo’s latest single ‘Forking’. Arpeggiated piano and harp crest over sweeping atmospheres while the voice of “Belief”, played by Elif Satanaya Özbay, describes an upcoming fork in a road. “Do you choose option A or option B,” they say, echoing the hydrangea—a flower that blooms blue or pink, depending on the soil in which it grows—of the group’s 2020 album.**
Experimental writing, it is said by those more comfortably ensconced in the sagging sofa of English literature, is simply a genre: a stereotypical form of book in which certain conventions apply, the same as in any other. As such, it’s over. That fuss and nonsense was all fine in the days of the proper modernists, from James Joyce, up to say, Brigid Brophy or Gilbert Sorrentino, but really, that’s all been mapped out. It’s done with. Now it’s time to knuckle down and write studied novels with the occasional nod to Derrida if you really must. The relation to tradition is all the better to show that you have mastered it and are beyond it, there’s no need to be disruptive. Writers want that familiar warm novel feeling back, but with a few winks. Or rather, not back so much as to insist on being in a position to perpetuate it, though cleverly, at the same time as insisting, in tune with the times, that there is no alternative.
Danklands would suggest otherwise. Written by Melbourne-based artist Holly Childs it is a book that takes place in the bits of cities that slipped through the master-plan despite being in the middle of it; something that echoes its place in literature. Danklands is written in English, but at all those points where it turns into a thick wet post-natural swamp, in jargon, awkward love, smoggy spaced-outness around the edges of the city’s docklands. Indelicate sentences, packed with clichés and gulped down verbiage that come back wrong, strands of linguistic mouth-backwash float into the reader’s bottle of Fiji water like the delicate tendrils of a jellyfish before dissolving back into narrative, a cluster of lists, bejewelled molten plastic slag and the goings on of several ciphers that pass for characters. In this movement the book occasionally takes time to gather its own co-ordinates, shifting paces, there’s a precision zoned-outness in the finely, almost molecularly, constructed sentences that flow out into the vast intertidal marshes of language with which the internet is silted together with. At other moments, the text floats in dense poetic dazes, tightly worded and loose.
Danklands has the best YouTube make-up tutorial yet to be lightly spritzed on the surface of video. If you follow its steps precisely, it will make your synapses shimmer as much as it extends your lashes. Working out the co-ordinates of the book, in the coagulated oozing mass, of leachate, is part of the fun. Making a list of all the things that aren’t things in the world is amazing enough, making the links between them work as they are brought into conjunction by fire, sunburn, romantic interest, sleepiness, new kinds of plastic and code. Soon enough you’re gliding over the surface of the ice rink, smoothing out the crud from the surface on a giant Zamboni machine that leaves everything crystalised and clear, a glittering swathe of reflection that you can carve a path into, but not before hot water is already poured over it by the machine, Childs’ writing machine, that recomposes the relations between molecules.**
Flaming Times is bringing a new exhibition – or “utopian visioning exercise” – called We want a future that outlives our past to Sydney’s Taylor Square on March 5.
The art exhibition takes place in front of the old toilet block at Taylor Square, populated by seedy, urine-stained brick blocks that are now in the talks of being turned into…cafes. The show describes itself as: “A collection of notices from noticeboards sourced from multiple queer utopian future worlds as envisioned by a flaming rainbow of curent (sic) queer artists and makers.”
“I like an exhibition that reads as a first person shooter”, says the press release for Quake II, curated by Holly Childs, running at London’s Arcadia Missa and featuring the work of two Australian-based artists Marian Tubbs and André Piguet. Taking its name from the 1997 video game, which in turn takes its title from the 1996 original, Quake, the show was conceived as a “non-linear curve” against Childs’ upcoming book Danklands, published by the aforementioned London gallery and launching across Europe and Australia through mid-December.
The exhibition very much reads as an interactive video game. Boarded off from the outside by white exhibition walling, there’s a window smashed through the panelling and supporting pinewood frames with a view inside that’s blocked by the back of Tubbs’ ‘untitled (the sea)’ (2014) video. It’s part of the artist’s ‘New Hunger‘ installation, featuring among other things a person-sized makeshift doorway where on walking through manouverability is key.
That’s especially true at an exhibition opening where the gallery floor is not only littered with Piguet’s lego trees, a mug, a red and white-dotted ceramic mushroom and a glazed and raw clay candle holder, but is also crowded with human bodies. At the centre of this single work installation scattered around the room, ‘WET_TIP_HEN_ax (blk lgn pale edit) Feat. SLCT troll garden garb’ (2014) lists “pigment”, “small amounts of gallium” and the presumably made up word of “tetrahydrosmaugs” as its materials, while a cloudy, semi-transparent battle-axe made from resin hangs in its centre. It’s fluoro axe-head equivalent is lying on the floor in a corner.
Tubbs’ dazzling stews of synthetic colour drift across loosely hung fabric limping from and falling out of wall-hung frames, a ribbon of motionless-but-abstractly-moving material tumbles down from ceiling to floor. “Feminist repurpose video #gamergate subversion shit” says the press release, as one considers the video raining Emojii and immaterial images of torn out fragments of words in ‘untitled (the sea)’. It’s at eye level and blocking the hole in the gallery wall, while announcing, “It’s hard for girls”. On the floor in the corner, ‘Vulgar Latin‘ (2014) projects screenshots of a YouTube window with a view into industrial sludge that’s suspended in time, floating across space. The soundtrack travels from pensive piano to crackling and crunching synth lines that slice across 2D gradient rectangles giving the illusion of 3D cylinders. Sometimes they bounce back from, other times bouncing out of, its frame. Bit coins. Coinye. Spilt milk. A wavy strip of snakeskin.
In announcing an interest in content that “reroutes its form” at the final Lunch Bytes in London before reading Augustine’s “make-up tutorial that is also subliminally a climate change awareness campaign, or a self-defence for women pep talk”, excerpted from Danklands, Childs expanded on an interest in physical space mediated by the online, in a Google Maps still of the Melbourne Docklands where it’s secret Control Pond Q is hidden from virtual view. In Quake II, Childs, Tubbs and Piguet present the spill over from the realm of the video game to the gallery floor in the implicit culture war of an exhibition that for once makes the Invisible Wall visible. **
“I’m going for a deeply oceanic look today”, Holly Childs is reading from her upcoming book Danklands, to be published via Arcadia Missa on December 9. It’s an excerpt of what she calls, “a make-up tutorial that is also subliminally a climate change awareness campaign, or a self-defence for women pep talk”. It features a persona called ‘Augustine’ pointing at ephemeral hyperlinks from inside a computer screen, while recommending “slut shame” eye shadow or “urban decay & deathzone 4 Eva” liner to suit any lifestyle: “maybe you’re a scientist who’s just started dating again after a massive break up, or doing some whaling”. From here come the ideas of “dredging and resurfacing” that Childs actively explores in her work, a subject that is revisited in various forms across ideas and artistic practices expressed in conversation with several other writers and artists. They include Cally Spooner and David Jablonowski, as well as art historian Florian Cramer and panel moderator Elvia Wilk at Lunch Bytes exploring Life: Language. The film that should follow the ICA programme is being delayed as the last in the London editions of the Goethe-Institut‘s European series applies some interesting ideas to the computer generated future of communication via the internet.
“’Always scared amateur porn is going to turn out to be a snuff film”, Childs is quoting Australian artist Aurelia Guo in exploring the “rerouting of form” where a format meant to present one agenda exposes itself for harbouring another. Hence the post-presentation question time concerning Emoji and their relationship with the corporate interests of the companies that produce them – say, the myth of “John Appleseed” embedded in Apple’s tiny pictographs. It’s a technologised type of social interaction that started in emoticons and has since been colonised by corporate entities; Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! encoding them with their own ideologies. Spooner goes further with these “shared behaviours between labour and speech, and therefore politics” citing Hannah Arendt’s derailing of a political form of life through speech and actions in the “big musical collapse” of her ‘And You Were Wonderful, On Stage’ (2014) performance. It was inspired by the artist’s experiences working with an advertising agency in a campaign that would refill its employees’ real-life stories with a company’s brand and values, only to resell it to its staff.
“I was thinking about how people use Emoji when they’re sexting, like an eggplant is supposed to be a dick”, Childs deadpans about the subversive potential of recalibrating said characters’ intended corporate meaning via context. This is something Cramer also illustrates via the encoded language of early 4Chan image boards, where he draws parallels between the highly referential “visual linguistics” of 17th century allegorical art and something like ‘Y U NO?’ or the Anonymous meme-cum-hacktivist group-cum-global symbol of dissent. The latter’s famous Guy Fawkes mask signifier is, of course, an iconic image that draws from Alan Moore’s cult graphic novel, V for Vendetta – which in turn was inspired by the 16th century activist – resurfacing via a Japanese anime-inspired culture transfered to Western image boards and manifesting physically via the #occupy movement.
In his ‘Powerslave, Revolution Main (Signature Series)’ (2014), recently shown at BRANDS – CONCEPT/AFFECT/MODULARITY, David Jablonowski draws a link between political revolutions via his found object sculptural arrangement of Iron Maiden tour merchandise from 1984. The band are regarded as the first rock act to cross into the Eastern Bloc at the time, while the limited edition Vans shoes were discovered by the Netherlands-based artist during a visit to New York when the 2012 Arab Spring in Egypt had erupted.
That sort of layering of symbolic objects not only expresses a sort of density of information but also an emptying out of a self-contained object’s self-contained meaning, especially when presented in pairings as disparate as the plexiglass and lacquered bamboo boxes in Jablonowski’s ‘Alibaba (dot cn dot sa dot com)’ (2014) sculpture at To Satisfy Algorithms/ Still Life with Asparagus. It’s inspired by a Chinese-founded trade website (alibaba.com) with an Arabic reference that has no connection to the region’s history except for its global potential for brand recognition.
Illustrating language as highly coded and malleable to its context – whether corporate, political or personal (often all three) – it’s in a clash of cultures and concerns that makes contemporary communication and the Lunch Bytes Life: Language discussion such a dynamic one. Cramer references Heath Bunting’s 1998 “social sculpture” ‘_readme.html (Own, Be Owned or Remain Invisible)’, where an article written by the net artist for Wired magazine is entirely linked by words to a corresponding .com domain. Starting out with mostly dead links, in the almost two decades since, they’ve been almost entirely populated and commercialised – even the conjunctions like ‘at’, ‘and’ and ‘to’.
Meanwhile, Spooner’s ‘Damning Evidence Illicit Behaviour Seemingly Insurmountable Great Sadness Terminated In Any Manner’ (2014) opera takes its title from a public statement made by Nike after Lance Armstrong’s revelations of doping. The opera itself outsources its scores to comment threads reacting to public controversy like Beyonce’s lip-synced Obama inauguration performance (“if you can’t trust her, who can you trust?”). All this, while Cramer suggests, “a new kind of writing needs to be invented”. But when Childs shares her “cute and nice conversation” with a Microsoft Word spell check function via an error-box gesturing, “it didn’t have the exact language to convey what it was thinking or feeling”, I rather think it already has. **
The quarterly Lunch Bytes public discussion series continues with Life: Language, taking place at London’s ICA on November 22.
Examining the effects of an increasingly inescapable digital existence, chairperson and writer Elvia Wilk brings a panel of speakers together to talk artistic practice in the digital age. With a special leaning towards the effects of digital media on the evolution of language, Life: Language explores how what is traditionally conceived as a visual domain is not only “fundamentally rooted in linguistic structures” but is also constantly interplaying image with text and vice versa.
Saturday’s panel features writer Holly Childs as well as artist David Jablonowski exploring how contemporary technologies have affected natural language, including platforms such as Twitter, Reddit, and 4Chan, and the role of complex social dynamics in linguistic mutation.
London’s Rich Mix art centre will be hosting Camaradefest II, an all-day collaborative poetry festival, this Saturday, October 25.
Starting at noon and running until well after the sun sets, Camaradefest II brings together 100 contemporary poets working in pairs to put on 50 readings and performances showcasing some of the best of 21st century literary and avant-garde poetry.
And the line-up brings a lot of familiar names to the table, including a lot of the poets that contributed to the I Love Roses When They’re Past Their Best anthology, which we reviewed here.