An interview with Holly Childs
Holly Childs is the author of No Limit and Danklands (2014). In a 2015 review of Danklands, the poet AJ Carruthers says that ‘This is the writing of now, and the questions raised will determine the future of Australian writing.’1 On the back jacket, the artist and writer Hannah Black says that ‘Danklands is not like any novel anyone read or wrote before’.
From the introduction by Astrid Lorange:
The title re-imagines Melbourne’s Docklands, a riverside development and capital plug in the city’s once industrial flank. Docklands, a site that tracks the buzzy illogic of credit and debt, building and demolition, luxury and banality, in this book becomes a holographic swamp, a site from which to consider the spreading paradox of the contemporary city. A swamp is neither water nor land, just as a hologram is neither image nor object. For Childs, the swamp and the hologram – imagined here as analogues of the city – offer something like like a paradigmatic ambience: at once virtual and actual, only ever semi-inhabitable, simultaneously definite and obtuse. Reading Danklands is a passage through these collapsible odd-spaces; chat window, make-up tutorial, camrip, file transfer, art gallery, perspex slice, inbox, open drain, ice rink, hard drive, morgue, long distance relationship.
LITF: Why Danklands? What is dankness?
HC: Dankness is rotting wharves, dumped appliances, fences under the overpass and too windy. Ok, there are things I can’t say right now. I don’t know if this interview will function. Dankness is also the brain fog which feels like brain rot that I can’t control and affects me ~25% of the time.
Generosity in the assumption… wait I have to come back to this when I can figure out how to phrase… become one of us… please stay etc… I’ll come back to this, in my mind now i’m also claiming it as a ULG… another land… maybe draw a fictionmap in the front of the next edition, erm what the fuck was I trying to say?
I’d come out of negotiations with Hologram (publisher) regarding the title No Limit. We had gone through literally hundreds of potential titles before we got to one we both did not hate. When I thought of Danklands, or more likely I probably said “I’m writing a novel set in Docklands” and Max [Trevor Thomas-Edmond]might have replied something like “Danklands”, it felt cute and kind of cheeky to use ill-thought-out, spontaneous, silly, immediate title, just as it felt cute/right to use a metal font on the cover (designed in collaboration with Zhoe Granger) and to zoom in on the naff dog from Marian Tubbs’ artwork as the focal point of the cover design.
LITF: There’s an apartment in the book that’s not really an apartment.
Stan hears ‘blah blah blah’ but he nods his head and performs voice noises and face shapes he imagines are congruent with Bam’s tone, facial expressions and posture. Bam continues, ‘Our apartment is actually a ghost in a shell within this apartment block. That’s why we don’t have a letterbox, and that’s why they use our place as their base when cleaning all the windows from the outside, since the building’s too high to do it all at once from the ground or the roof. We don’t exist on any council plans. Tents, ropes, tarpaulin. Hard hats, steel capped boots. Rigging. In MySpace genres I’d call it cobweb/net-art/prayer room. In emoji: crystal ball, toilet, water feature, baby elephant. Janitor’s closet. The Shining.’
Can you tell us about it?
HC: I used to live in a house next to the train line. Had to walk through another property’s garden to get to it, our place was not visible from the street and it was attached to an old man smoking cafe by a screen door in one of the bedrooms. The place needed a lot of repairs, possums used to piss through the ceilings onto our beds, but the council, real estate, owner all refused to deal with it, and in the end we were evicted when it was found that the house we lived in didn’t exist on any maps or council plans.
Precarious housing is a theme in my work as it is a theme in my life. Housing stress. My constant goal is finding and maintaining space to be safe and comfortable with and in. I left my expensive and comfortable home of 3 years last winter after a sad-bad break up which I’m still coming to terms with. It was an apartment on the 7th floor of an old building in Melbourne CBD. For months after, in subletted bedrooms in Melbourne, Sydney, Berlin, London and Auckland I literally felt like I was 7 stories below the ground and this sensation of dragging through the crust is only now starting to lift and next week moving into an apartment on 3rd floor, slowly rising.
LITF: What are the Docklands like on the ground now? Have they changed much since the book was published?
HC: I’m on the tram now, meeting Aurelia [Guo] at Docklands Library, which I didn’t write into Danklands, but it’s apparently the most “eco” public building in Australia… it feels like a boat, all the touchscreens look like enormous iPads, it’s got a aural playground outside that looks like it was designed in Germany, or by Björk. Danklands was published in December 2014, it is now May 2015. There are been no significant property developments, though I now know a guy who lives in one of the boats down there, slowly mapping it out, and I talked to my sister about Docklands raves in the 1990s, she was there, she said there was a lot of driving around listening out for the bassss.
LITF: Danklands was published with Arcadia Missa, as the culmination of your residency with them; what was it like being in Peckham while working on a book set in Melbourne?
HC: It was pretty dank. Lemme think on that. I’m wondering why this interview feels like therapy, Rebecca [Bligh], what is this?
Ok I started writing Danklands in Melbourne late 2013, and without telling anyone I was writing a book set in Docklands, 2 weeks later I got offered a workspace in Docklands for $12 a week (£6 approx). I got majorly fucked-up approx May 2014 and I kept trying to write, but could only do it in slow-mo. I was meant to give Rózsa at Arcadia Missa the Danklands manuscript in August, but I got it to her on the last day of September, after working on it non-stop for a month in Berlin… but by the time I’d got to Europe most of the geography/infrastructure of Dock/Danklands was in place, I was mainly writing sleep-scenes, character interactions, emotions. Anything else I needed from Docklands at that point I got from photos, videos and notes I’d taken before I left, or Google Maps.
LITF: Which feels more future, Melbourne or London?
HC: My experience was that London felt very retro, or like future drudgery. A future of now if literally nothing good would happen again but we all have to keep going. Neoliberal-hell future definitely. That queen rly keeps the feudal feels and deep class structures on lock. Like so dry biscuits. If I’m not being very clear, London could be the future of the past… like 1980 if nothing progressed and it was now 2015, which it is.
Edamame now added to all salads at Sainsbury’s Express, as if more soy is even categorised as “healthfood” anywhere else in the world.
Fortnum & Mason gave me life.
LITF: At your Lunchbytes talk at the ICA in London, you said you’re interested in things that are more than just one thing.2 As well as being a book, what else is Danklands?
HC: Danklands is being 7 stories below ground3. Being not ok, sleep as escape. Soon, when I’m next ok, it will become something else, maybe a new gloss of the same book with all different words. I want to do more work in and on Docklands, writing is basically my only method of time travel.
LITF: Another manifestation of your London residency was Quake II, showing the work of Marian Tubbs, who also designed the book jacket for Danklands, and Andre Piguet, who Harry Burke notes ‘shares certain characteristics’ with one of the book’s characters. There’s a moment in his i-D profile of you where Harry says:
the book collapses into the exhibition, and vice versa. But this also crashes into ‘real life’, across 11 time zones on the other side of the world – albeit in a city with the same insane observation wheel spinning round and round. I’m wondering why and how this could be, whilst Childs shouts out “oh cool this is getting likes now I thought it was broken” about a photo she’d uploaded. I can’t work out whether she’s addressing her phone or the people around her, or indeed which one is fiction and which one is reality.4
Also, in Chapter 15 of of Danklands, ‘Economy Dolphin’, Bam [or you – or Sage? ] says ‘i just want to process what i’m in contact with as i’m in contact with it. process all notes the day i take them. photos are a nightmare.’ Do you think of Danklands as any particular genre?
HC: I’m so much more interested in music genres than literary genres… like jungle or sneaker fetish… I guess ‘sneaker fetish’ is a lit genre though… More fun and play and depth in literature.
LITF: You’ve said that you like some of what Timothy Morton has to say in interview, but not his prose so much; are there other writers and theorists you’re reading now? Are any of them science fiction ?
HC: Yeh… I’m just figuring out lucid dreaming right now so reading up on that, also getting computer voice to read out Reza Negarestani pdfs while I clean my room. Also reading Ursula le Guin b4 bed.
LITF: Is the idea of hyperstition (the becoming-real of fictional entities) useful for thinking about your practice?
HC: Everything I write is either a summoning/an incantation, or expression of an experience I’m ready to let go of. I need to create new worlds.
(2)It’s already a polyvalent term: considering contemporary usage of the word ‘thing’, it’s maybe interesting that early senses also included ‘meeting’ and ‘matter, concern’ as well as ‘inanimate object’.^
(3)British ‘storey’ ; more polyvalent in Australian English which is generally speaking a hybrid of US and UK Englishes.^