(Editor’s Note: This interview first appeared on NeoAztlán in 2013. Rachel Crist and Daedalus Hoffman no longer collaborate although I do remain friends with both of them.)
By Esteban Peralta
Rachel Crist and Daedalus Hoffman make up the Austin-based HIXX Collective. Their work is about what Hoffman refers to as “subjective authenticity.” In the context of HIXX’s work, it’s oftentimes a statement about cultural and social conceptual contronyms. Hoffman describes the idea for a monster truck tire made out of fine crystal. The crystal and the monster truck tire share similar value in completely opposite social constructs. This sort of concept is neatly and deliberately injected into their work.
For their work titled “Spitting Image” featured in the 2013 Texas Biennial, Crist is seen on the 3-hour long video piece stuffing gobs of wintergreen-flavored chewing tobacco into her mouth and spitting it onto paper laid out on the floor. Shot the entire time with a tight focus on Crist, at one point she becomes disoriented. She loses herself in the performance and seems to cognitively shut down. The moment is uncomfortable to watch. About three hours into the piece, Hoffman uses hand signals to indicate that hours have passed, but Crist is convinced that only about 20 minutes have passed.
The essence of who they are and what they do is illustrated in the subjective authenticity in the creation of “Spitting Image.” It’s about a dedication and commitment that is revealed accidentally and, in the course of their work (and this interview), quite deliberately. Crist and Hoffman are the quintessential artistic collaborative and partnership. They are in love and committed to their work and each other in spite of the perils, real or imagined… and they finish each other’s sentences.
The following interview took place on August 11, 2013 at the Yellow Jacket Social Club in Austin, Texas.
Esteban Peralta: So, can you talk about your background a little bit?
Rachel Crist: I was in a limited access BFA program at Florida State University from 2006 to 2009 and I did an honors thesis, so I did some research in the major. Daedalus and I collaborated throughout the process and that was a continual dialogue that we had…
EP: You guys met at Florida State?
Daedalus Hoffman: No, we met at the University of Florida. It was like an experimental growing class…
DH: Something like that… and they like paired you up, you know.
EP: When was that?
DH: God, 2003? 2002?
RC: Probably 2003.
DH: Yeah. So they paired us up, you know, and Rachel and I made this uh… It was like…
[bartender plays a song]
DH: … I love this song… It was like this (inaudible) thing that was made with all these lentils and sticks and shit and then we made this video of it getting destroyed…
RC: Yeah, we did some interventions at the time.
DH: It won some things that I can’t remember at the time and then we just worked together since like on and off… Yeah, I never finished school. I never graduated from college. I went to UF and then my mom died and I dropped out of school because she moved to Florida where I was living and went to hospice. So, then I got a real job at the university and then she died and then we moved to Tallahassee and I got a job at the film school there. I worked with the artist Jim Roche for about three years. I was a tech for Jim. He worked a lot of video in the 70s and 80s and he wanted to get a lot of that stuff up on the Web, so that’s where I came in – transferring from the different formats and then uploading it to YouTube.
RC: So, when we were at Florida State we just continued to work. We had studio space which was really great, so Daedalus and I worked in the studio and I think that’s probably when we started to form some of our better works that kinda got us to where we are now.
DH: Yeah, Rachel got a couple of grants. She got a big one that was called…
RC: It was the Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors Award and so that paid for two…
DH: Wasn’t the travel like five grand?
RC: Yeah, so we were able to travel on that and that’s the first time we came out to Texas. At the time, a lot of our visual interests and cultural research was focused on the geographic south so we were really interested in that kind of area. That, I guess, would be the foundations for where HIXX came from.
DH: The “genesis” of HIXX, for sure, but that’s only been – HIXX as a thing, as a project-based collective, that submits for the Texas Biennial or AURORA or that kind of stuff, has only existed for two years and really only, in terms of exhibitions, this last year, really because we’ve re-worked a lot of that older stuff.
RC: Refined it. Refocused it.
DH: We put everything back into the oven and made sure it was done. And we had these works that were more like earth, environmental kind of stuff. We had this thing… the bags.
EP: And that’s what you concentrated on. I noticed you had an exhibition where you collected some water.
RC: That was us working together: “Nameless, Shapeless, Borderless.” That was over probably a year and a half we spent collecting water samples and that was throughout the South. We would pick up water as we traveled. There’s some Texas water in that show.
EP: This (noise) reminds me of that piece you guys did… The ELVIS LIVES piece… Tell me about that.
DH: I just liked it because it’s the same letters. Like “Elvis” and “Lives” are the same letters rearranged. That’s really where the whole work came from. I was writing it down and then I realized that they were the same and then I was like, “Wow. We should make a work from this…”
RC: We looked at the top hits… There’s about thirty-one top hits…
DH: I think it’s thirty. It’s thirty on the recordings…
RC: So, it’s all the top hits that made it through… What was it? Was it the top 40 or just made it past the 10?
DH: It’s all number ones. They’re all number ones.
EP: And you just mixed them all together?
DH: They’re all just playing at the same time.
RC: They’re all just stacked tracks.
DH: Yeah, they’re all stacked.
RC: And the majority of them are about two minutes, two and a half minutes long…
DH: And then “caught in a trap” is like six minutes, I think.
RC: Four and a half, five minutes…
EP: So you basically picked a bunch of number ones…
DH: All the number ones. That was the idea. It was going to be all the number one hits. I was kind of interested in how they were all the same to me. There was this similarity between them all. Conceptually, I mean.
EP: What was that?
DH: A kind of mass market rock and roll – a kind of rock and roll without any fangs. I was interested in that.
RC: You can tell there are certain lyrical structures that would happen too, so you could kinda feel when they were all going to come in, when the drums would slow down, and they have that kind of similar structure, at least the shorter hits do. So, after we stacked them all it was really fun to listen to “caught in a trap…”
DH: Suspicious Minds…
EP: It sounds like a field recording like you guys were out in Grand Central Station or something…
DH: It’s gnarly. It’s punk rock.
EP: …and then Suspicious Minds sort of fades in…
RC: It’s in there the whole time.
DH: That’s just the natural ebb and flow of the songs together and through the cacophony it just kind of arranges itself in this way that it ends in this metaphor almost… We’re caught in a trap.
EP: Was that the concept or was it something that came to light after you guys put it together?
RC: I think it came to light.
DH: It was just play. It’s all about the willful misuse of culture and technology. I just wanted to take these things and put them in a context that they were never meant to be in, but they were designed to be in because they’re all manufactured from the same place, basically… Nobody has an Elvis record. Everybody has a “best of” or whatever. I was just interested in how culture is compressed and distributed in this way that cues everybody in real quick. I guess the Internet is kind of like that too. It’s why I’m interested in the Internet as this tool for cultural diffusion…
RC: We had been interested in Elvis just as a figure…
DH: We spent a lot of time in Memphis.
RC: We visited his grave on his birthday and delivered cupcakes.
DH: For this collective they have there called Sanssouci… We did an art piece for an art space called Sanssouci. They’re an underground art space affiliated with the Memphis College of Art. We went there to make a thing and they just brought us there and we had no idea what we were going to make at the time and then we went and invaded Graceland and made this photo thing…
RC: Stop motion… We’ve also liked using sound as a medium and so this was a fun way to source sound and create something new.
DH: I wanted to make a record. I want to press up some 45s. We’re working on another record. It’s called “Rebel Yell.” It’s inspired by Yoko Ono’s scream art – connect that with Little Richard and the Rebel Yell and the whole deal. Nobody’s ever heard the Rebel Yell. It’s just been reported and re-enacted.
EP: I think of Rebel Yell, I think of Billy Idol. Is that what you’re talking about?
DH: No, I’m talking about the Rebel Yell. The Confederate yell. They would scream as they would go over the hill of Bull Run and it would put a blood-curtling shake through the spines of all the Yankees on the other side and all the reports describe it as this beast-like sound that was emitting from the Virginia woods as this band of madmen come up over this hill. I was interested in that idea and that had never been recorded. Nobody actually knows what it sounds like. It may not even exist.
EP: Is there a written representation of what it might have sounded like?
RC: There’s lots of accounts.
DH: There’s accounts and re-enactments. Old re-enactments.
RC: I think we found an old, old recording.
DH: One of the first wax recordings…
RC: …is somebody describing what the Rebel Yell was. I’m interested in it in this kind of performance way and how do you envision and try to channel what that kind of emotional outburst would be like in that kind of context, but being completely devoid of that now. So, how can I channel what that might sound like and try to perform it with as much enthusiasm?
EP: Because there’s an important element missing if you try and reproduce it – the fact that you’re about to enter into a life or death struggle. How do you feel you can reconcile that?
RC: It’s just a part of the performance and I think an aspect of endurance and trying to put yourself in that kind of mind and body. Then also looking at the other performers. Daedalus mentioned Yoko Ono and even Kate Hardy and these other performers that have engaged in screams. So, what does the legacy of performance art say about that?
DH: What are those two Chinese artists that re-enact The Scream itself? They’re famous.
EP: The painting?
DH: Yeah. They turn it into a performance work and they get people to do it.
[Editor’s Note: Cai Yuan and JJ Xi performance.]
RC: They invite the audience to come in and do it.
DH: They’ve done it at the Tate.
RC: We watched that recently.
DH: I was just interested in that as a medium. The scream as a medium and what the Rebel Yell – which is this thing that is controversial… Certain people fetishize that idea of The South and how that becomes tied in with rebellion. I’m interested in rebellion and all those ideas, but there are all these things I don’t like.
EP: From what I remember, you’re from Philadelphia.
DH: Yeah, I’m from Philadelphia.
EP: So, this is kind of a learning experience for you.
DH: It always is for me.
RC: You’ve lived in the south for quite awhile.
DH: Sure. I went to college here. I’ve lived in the south for 10 years.
EP: I’ve been in Texas for 13 years now… and I’ve never gotten used to it.
EP: I’ve never gotten used to this sort of southern way of looking at things. I’m not saying it’s bad. I love Texas. Texas is an amazing place, but it did take me a couple years to get used to it. So, I’m wondering for you…
DH: I was never used to Philly. I don’t think I ever get used to any place. I’m just never really comfortable which isn’t bad. I think it’s good because it keeps me interested in things and wanting to explore and wander and move around a lot which is I think is good for our practice.
RC: I think after traveling around the south and growing up with the ideas of how the art would be interested in this geographic space, we really started to realize that the southernism is just a replacement for rural culture and rural culture exists everywhere.
DH: Right. Or indigenous culture… “Indigenous culture” is a paraded term because of the sort chain of custody of whatever land you got. It’s always the next group of people who killed the previous group of people…
EP: So you have a group of impoverished people who are replacing another group of impoverished people by virtue of the imperialism…
EP: So, is that what you are trying to document because your work is very “working class” work…
DH: Yeah. For sure. It’s been described to me as “high low.” “High low” is always what I get. People always say: “You’re doing the high low thing.”
RC: I’m really attracted to the fact that you can be rural and be anywhere, but being southern implies being rural, so there’s an interesting relationship there and a duality.
DH: Yeah, you don’t have to be rural and be from the south, but if you’re from the south people think that you’re rural.
EP: You’re either the plantation owner or the field worker.
DH: Exactly. That class paradigm is good. I think that kind of fits in with what we do – the starkness of it. You’re either the boss or you’re the bottom. That echoes through the work – the idea of the insider and the outsider… the guilded shit. The shit that’s gold. It’s been done a lot.
EP: So tell me about the HIXX Collective A to Z process. Is there a stronger voice between you two?
RC: I think they both get massaged out pretty equally especially in the final product. The final product is inherently *from* us. That has been worked out to where we both feel wholly satisfied with it. Not one person has put more of an emphasis on one particular thing. Daedalus has a backlog of ideas. There is a wealth of ideas that are in different states and forms. It’s kind of which idea to pick up on now and what state is it in and where are we going to work it.
DH: … and who will give me money. [laughs]
EP: Is that a motivation at all for you?
DH: No, I mean to make it… because it’s expensive. It gets harder and harder to make things.
RC: We’ve got a new work that is pretty-well conceptualized, but the actual making of it hasn’t happened because it’s going to foot about two thousand dollars just to make it.
EP: What if somebody came to you and said: “Money is no object?” What would be the first thing that maybe is something you guys have on the back burner?
DH: Crystal Monster Truck Tire. I want to make a huge monster truck tire out of crystal…
RC: …or glass.
EP: When did this idea happen?
RC: That idea of using a monster truck tire as a form has been around for about at least three years now.
DH: Another one: Double-Headed Semi. I want to do this double-headed semi so that it looks like it’s going both ways – it looks like a tug-o-war.
RC: [gesturing] One pointing that way, one pointing that way with the headlights and what would be the shipping compartment is one unison.
DH: And then the wheels are going…
EP: You can’t drive it.
RC: So that tension. So the semis are the most expensive because they require so much direction…
DH: … and engineering because the engine can’t be on because obviously it’ll be emitting exhaust in the space and nobody would want that so there has to be some kind of servo or small driver that moves the wheels…
RC: … so that tension is received…
DH: There’s got to be a perfect amount of spacing so that the illusion is there to where it appears that it’s spinning.
RC: I think the shipping containers and the headlights at night…
DH: I think we can do that. We were talking to AURORA for that one – maybe next year. A sculpture that’s going to be outside. That’s the way we’re designing it now. It’s going to be headlights in the distance. Does it need to be in an enclosed space and you go into the enclosed space and the headlights are way off in the distance so you’ve got the deer in the headlights kind of thing or does it need to be this sculpture that is far away that you travel towards? Like this beacon and you get there and see the anti-climax.
RC: But those are some of the horizon ideas, especially the headlights, which we’re hoping will come to fruition in 2015.
EP: Okay, so the crystal monster tire…
DH: That’ll never happen… [laughs]
RC: Unless we get it figured out.
DH: I’m talking like big-ass tire… fucking huge. We were looking at the measurements the other day. They are massive… Much larger than human-scale.
EP: Why the crystal?
DH: Because the paradox is what innately draws me to it. This thing is expressly designed to crush – to cause wreckage – and then it’s made out of this precious material, so it could never really have that use so it’s this total futility in the design. The minute you use it it would be destroyed.
RC: Monster truck tires are coveted in a certain culture as well. My brother – his tires are huge and they’re expensive.
DH: It’s a class dimension to it as well.
RC: It’s a culture there and to be able to take that object that is fetishized, but fetishized for the dirtiness and the destruction it can create and then to transform it…
DH: … into another fetishized thing…
EP: Kind of melding two different classes…
DH: Yeah, that’s kind of what… if I was to boil down what it is we do… I mean, the reason we’re interested in this stuff is that… I think, just really generally obviously, the whole myth of American libertarianism and how that dovetails so neatly with, like, Coors commercials to me… Embedded in that is this set of values, this ideology, you know? The art world has a contrasting set of values as a whole other ideology that in many ways is in conflict.
EP: Describe that for me.
DH: It’s one that stresses subjective authenticity and credentialing from elite institutions and that is almost always a proxy for your class and the accessibility and privilege that you’ve had. Whereas, the other is a kind of subjective authenticity, but it’s much more about rugged individualism. The idea that the state is this thing that constrains you; that you don’t really need society; and you’re better off if you just make it all up yourself.
RC: So, I think the making aspect of that culture that creates for themselves and is maybe considered more working class is where I feel I approach making from, but, as an artist, it’s how do we get these works to be considered on the same kind of scale as some of these other works?
DH: But, also the art world is very cosmopolitan. It has a lot of urban concerns.
RC: So it’s much more liberal than libertarian?
DH: For sure. Definitely. When you put those two things together, you complicate the relationship between both those sets of ideologies.
RC: And that’s interesting to watch.
DH: For sure. It’s interesting to see art audiences in different contexts and the baggage that they bring to specific works. Everybody has… basically, white trash… poor white people make up the largest single group of impoverished people in America.
EP: I lived in Appalachia for awhile. I grew up poor, but when I moved to Appalachia, it was mind-blowing…
DH: It’s crazy, crushing, third-world poverty there. The only thing I’ve ever seen worse than that… there’s some bad Indian reservations in Arizona that looked pretty bad, but it’s neck-in-neck… but that’s the safest group you can make fun of… Inbred, poor whites are up for grabs…
EP: Out in the world, not in your work.
DH: In my work, I always get accused of that all the time…
RC: There’s confusion about the work… “Where is this coming from?”
EP: Isn’t that a very entitled argument though?
DH: Definitely. I think it’s an argument that establishes a limit for what “those people” can understand and appreciate and then decides that art is just not for them and any kind of conceptual play with the materials that make up their every day life is somehow patronizing. Who I’m patronizing are the other people. I’m trying to put people in contact with a set of ideas that I don’t believe necessarily. There are a lot of things that are in my work that I don’t endorse, but I think that people – by virtue of segmented media and the big sort, all these kinds of social factors – spend a lot of time sequestering themselves away from ideas they don’t want to be with… What we’re doing is confronting people with material that they try to avoid… Maybe… Maybe they’ve tried to avoid it, maybe they haven’t. Maybe they’re totally into it and then I hope that they like it because it’s supposed to be entertaining and provocative and funny, at the end of the day, in some way.
EP: So, you guys know who your audience is. You know who you’re making your work for. It’s very clear.
DH: [laughs] I guess.
EP: If you go to your typical art opening, you’re not going to see a bunch of rural people.
DH: Some people just don’t like art and that’s fair. Some people think that shit is just a big waste of time… And I can understand that. Sometimes I think it’s a big waste of time.