AN ODE TO THE DIGIVERSE AND AUTHENTICITY, WITH GAO.
Time becomes very strange and warpy, when you live half of your life in a timeless sphere.
In a conversation where it is conceded that facetime hugs can be felt, HQ’s Sophie Marsh climbs into the void to meet Bridget-Gao Hollitt, who has been busy contemplating cyborg rights and the sounds each colour of the world makes. So much so, her ideal 30 year plan might involve post-physical reproduction. Investigating the slipstream into the digiverse and addressing the hard to detach from places (the ones we tend to silence), the multi-modal artist releases her EP how was that for you under her artist name GAO. In an ode to authenticity, screen-time, getting real fucking big, and a love of paradoxes, we peer inside GAO’s character, and the mind of her creator.
Bridget Hollitt: This interview is going to be very interesting considering I can’t speak.
Sophie Marsh: No, it’s my favorite because what I get to do is I get to enjoy your company for the next hour and then anything that you say that is slightly off, I just fix in post and make you sound even smarter than you already are. So it’s totally fine.
Bridget Hollitt: Oh okay, great. So I can just basically just say whatever I want and be as problematic as I want?
Sophie Marsh: Yes, and I urge you to. This EP is such a brazen encapsulation of questioning and truth and the relationship between the two. As a young person, how do you feel your willingness to release the EP has been impacted by the times that we are in? And maybe the industry that you’re in?
Bridget Hollitt: Well, I made the music with a very clear intention that I was going to be completely unfiltered and I did that because I knew that if I entered doubt, fear, resistance or thinking about other people’s thoughts, that I would possibly never release music. I said to Johannnes (my engineer), let’s make these songs; they might never see the light of day, but I know I want to make them.
I write stream of consciousness so I was just playing chords and singing and that’s what they are. We took some of the extra stuff out of the lyrics, but nothing has been altered.
It’s what will make for some more unclear or questionable lyrics. But that’s part of the identity of the project now, where I’m sitting back and going, actually that’s not a thought I agree with anymore. But at the time it was. I was really in this questioning space.
And you know, What is the gestation time of a breakup? is just a list of questions. So to answer your question, I refuse to think about what others would think of the music. I’ll probably think more about it in the future and I think that’s a good thing. But for now it allowed me to to release something that is very, very raw, and free and automatic.
Sophie Marsh: What’s the relationship between unfiltered-ness and the rest of your life?
Bridget Hollitt: I truly believe that this unfiltered space – particularly leaning into kind of icky, or weird or gross/ banal details of life – is a reaction to having worked as a model for 13 years where everything is about appearances.
In fashion it’s not even that you have to seem together, but it’s a particular kind of “if you’re going to be chaotic, be a particular brand of chaos”. The part of me that is featured in this EP is a very neurotic, very quote-unquote lame part of me. It’s this constant loop of questioning that lives inside of me. And so in a lot of ways, this explosion of unfiltered energy is a reaction to having spent so long trying to control how others perceive me, or being hyper-aware of how I’m not fitting into a mold.
I listened to a lot of Okay Kaya in the lead-up to writing this and I loved how unfiltered she is. She has this lyric in one of her songs about having a yeast infection. And I just thought that’s so cool because it’s such a universal theme for people with vaginas as this recurring beast in our lives and yet there’s no music about it. Anyway, all of that is to say it was very much a reaction to the world, or the rules that I perceive in the world that I inhabit.
I very much feel that Gao is a character who lives within me and to be honest, I think she’s only going to get more brazen and bold and unhinged, which I love. She kind of fits into a sort of like a kookie High Priestess archetype. She’s very cool, calm and collected amidst chaos and strangeness and the ebbs and flows of life. Which is why I was so comfortable in this EP to really delve into those incessant questions because she’s comfortable with them. She’s like, ‘this is a thought that popped into my mind’.
It feels very different to regular Bridget walking down the street, the voice that came out when I was writing, or when I was in the studio. Well, the studio was my house. But there’s definitely a different energy and I love it. It’s really fun.
I would like to bring more of that boldness into my real life. But it comes from creating very, very safe parameters for her to emerge, which is a really interesting psychological trick because in other scenarios there’s just no way that she would come out.
Sophie Marsh: Right now as a collective, there is a lot more calling back of this icky feminine rage. Where do you feel like we’re at in terms of that energy as a collective in our feminine?
Bridget Hollitt: I think that we are coming into a reclamation of the nitty-gritties of being a feminine person in this world.
If you’re acting like you’re not insecure, then I think that’s really problematic and untrue. And I think that one thing that women have always had in spaces with other women is the ability to be open about their insecurities. But in the broader space perhaps not and I think what’s happening is that it’s starting to bleed into society at large and it’s really, really beautiful and feels very empowering. And it felt like a great deal of permission was given to me when I really tuned into that and found people who were doing it and still making beautiful things.
It’s also a really beautiful part of the divine feminine that’s emerging in terms of this relaxedness with neuroticism and relaxedness with flux and change. For the people who menstruate in these cycles or even just people who are feminine in general, there’s this expansion-contraction cycle that we all follow. And feeling comfortable with that is a really exciting part of where we are I think. And I think that’s definitely coming through in the music sphere, in a really sharp, pointy way which I love.
Sophie Marsh: That’s a beautiful word that you use: permission. Can you pinpoint things or places or people that you would have sought permission from in the past that maybe you’re no longer asking for?
Bridget Hollitt: Permission is an interesting one, because feasibly in an ideal world, I’d be able to give myself permission for anything. However, sometimes it’s a cognitive leap that’s too large to do that. And so somebody else in your life or someone who comes to you through art, can hold your hand and leap across with you or I guess cross in front of you and then you go, oh okay, I know it’s possible. Which is why I think representation is so important.
What I’ve learned through several creative modalities like through acting training and music writing, and also through people in my personal life who have walked this path, is how to take small steps towards authenticity. And to blend your ideas of success with that authenticity.
Like within the structure that I’m given, how can I be the most blaringly authentic possible? In actual fact, I do believe that that’s what leads to success. So, I think that the artists that inspire me the most are the ones who shot out of the cannon from day one trying to be as them as possible. Whatever that meant at that moment.
It’s usually a blend of influences that they admire as well, but what was important to me was to see people making things that actually, I find beautiful. Maybe not everyone finds them beautiful, but I find beautiful; things that are also saying the kinds of things that I want to say.
There was a huge amount of permission given to me there that perhaps I couldn’t give myself. On a greater scale maybe that was me giving myself permission because I found those artists at the right time. Because you know, I’ve been listening to Okay Kaya for a long time and couldn’t really ever get it. And then for some reason at that moment in my life, I was ready and I started listening to her again and I was like oh my gosh. She has an album called The Incompatible Okay Kaya that kind of inspired the whole tone of how was that for you?
Sophie Marsh: You are a multi-modal artist. And in that way, you have had lots of exposure to different bodies of work. Obviously Okay Kaya in a musical sense is someone that’s really influenced this body of work, but what else have you been actively consuming to kind of arrive in the spaces that you’re uncovering?
Bridget Hollitt: I am very fascinated with the work of certain photographers like Harley Weir and Petra Collins. Really surrealist artists excite me.
I have some photos on my phone where I don’t remember the names of the artists but I’ll send them to you because I went to see the Surrealism exhibition at the Tate in London, and I felt like I was very at home. Which is really cool to find that in art because I wasn’t- until the last sort of 12 months to two years-I hadn’t really been consuming art and I hadn’t really found art that felt like it spoke to me.
Charlie Kaufman is my favorite screenwriter. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich speak very strongly to my consistent sense of confusion and neuroticism and adaptation.
Particularly there’s this one man named Neil Harbison and he lives somewhere in Scandinavia and he is the world’s first legally recognized cyborg. He was born color blind so he created this device that he could implant into his skull that allows him to hear color.
It makes me cry every single time I talk about it because It’s just so magical that he gets to experience the world that way and of course there’s a lot of disadvantages to the way that he has to live his life, but he created himself: he recreated himself in a way that now he experiences color.
He’s an advocate for cyborg rights because he’s a cyborg and he has rights. And so he really inspired track five Algorithm defined fantasy girl. And I always imagine that life would be very overstimulating for him because he’s constantly hearing sound, so life is like this constant symphony. But it would often be very dissonant because every colour has a note.
So if he looks at red, blue, and yellow together, it’s a beautiful major chord. But art and life are full of really dissonant colors which would sound very off-putting and out of tone and out of key which can be interesting, but the world in general, I think would be quite dissonant.
He can also make phone calls off of his device and people can call him, so he physically cannot escape the digital world which I relate to a lot. But he just kind of got lodged in my mind when I heard about him in 2017 and he never left. And this song is part of me honoring him and how inspired and excited I am by his existence.
Sophie Marsh: I love that. In terms of the themes that run through your EP, there’s obviously a large influence of heartbreak and you know, love in general particularly in a digital age. You obviously wrote the EP more than 12 months ago?.
Bridget Hollitt: I started writing it in November of 2021. I wrote block u in that time and then the other ones in 2022.
Sophie Marsh: How would you say your relationship with love-loss and love itself for that matter have been strengthened or challenged since the writing of the EP?
Bridget Hollitt: And I think writing this really helped me because it gave me permission to claim (and not shame) the parts of me that were attached. And of course attachment and love blend into one another so there’s parts of the connection that are a bit of both, but I knew there were parts that were purely attachment. In writing I really was able to live in those parts and give them voice and give them space as opposed to trying to hide them away in a little corner of my being.
It was also beautiful because this EP is at times quite morose and it gave me permission to be really, really sad and explore my experience of pain and then specifically, feminine pain.
Since finishing the EP, my outlook on life has definitely become a lot more sunny.
Perhaps the EP even is a little self-contained capsule of that pain. I can always go back there and I feel like in some ways it’s allowed me to start to create detachment from that pain, because I have an out-of-body container of it.
What I learned through that time in my life, is the important and crucial lesson that I think everybody learns, that deep love sometimes just isn’t enough. And that is one of the most confusing experiences a person can go through because love feels like gravity. And so it’s like telling the moon to stop orbiting the earth. They’d be like, excuse me.
I guess now I feel like that orbit has been severed and I’m kind of just floating around and it is lighter. But it also feels a little more untethered.
Sophie Marsh: How do you identify love now?
Bridget Hollitt: I don’t know if that’s a realistic thing for a human to achieve. But it’s a nice goal post for me. Because if I can sit in appreciation and love for someone, and at the same time accept that they’re not in my life, that feels the most healing, and the most productive and the most truthful.
And I feel very sad saying that. I think because we’re not biologically built to accept that, we tend to hold on to the things we love. And especially in like you know media and films it’s very much a message that you should fight for the things you love.
But in life, a lot of the time you actually have to fight for yourself, and the two can be mutually exclusive.
But it doesn’t mean that you don’t love them and it doesn’t mean that you didn’t benefit from all that they are. And that you won’t continue to benefit from all that they are because they will always live in you.
And that’s on grief.
Sophie Marsh: Do you ever feel like your private acknowledgment of love versus what’s publicly accepted as acknowledgments of love, differ?
Bridget Hollitt: I think that the kind of cultural-societal accepted definition of love is inaccurate. I think that we very much live in an attachment based culture. There’s a spectrum of attachment-detachment that we all sit on in terms of how much we want to accept.
I don’t want to live in full detachment because that feels like just letting everything go and not pursuing my goals. It’s hard because they say if you’re fully detached from the outcomes, you can pursue your goals out of a place of wholeness and love and enjoyment rather than a place of scarcity.
So who knows? Maybe I do want to sit that far on the scale.
But I think that love is generally misunderstood and I think it’s misunderstood because we don’t want to understand it. If we understood it, we’d have to let go of a lot of things.
I was gonna say people who have had to let go of connection with family perhaps find it easier to let go of connection in adult life. But actually most of the time it goes the other way: if you’ve had to let go of familial love, it’s probably because you grew up in an unpredictable or abusive home. And in that case you’ll have attachment issues. That’s the tea.
Sophie Marsh: I think it’s really interesting that kind of space that you just spoke into for a moment about how it can feel like there’s this exclusivism between detachment and love; how it’s been set up societally so you almost have to pick one. Like you either pick yourself, or you pick connection. What’s the secret third thing?
Bridget Hollitt: Well, my theory is that you have to relate with people who are also pursuing detachment and those people are rare and sometimes kind of annoying.
Sophie Marsh: Hahaha.
Bridget Hollitt: Myself included.
Sophie Marsh: Humour me, what are the most annoying things about people seeking detachment (yourself included)?
Bridget Hollitt: Like: “Oh really, what are you thinking? Why do you think that? Why do you need to? What void are you trying to filll?”
What if I just want to fucking be average. Chill out. That was a little role play for you.
Sophie Marsh: At some point in your life you would have had to cross the threshold where the alternative to this is more unbearable than the annoyance of being a truth seeker.
Bridget Hollitt: Yeah look, I’m kind of joking. Most of the people I know who are seeking detachment are also very fun and attuned and good at walking that line and striking that balance. I just think that they’re rare magical beasts. And when I find them, and this is ironic… when I find them, I grip onto them.
Sophie Marsh: Hahaha. The paradoxes.
Bridget Hollitt: Nothing makes sense. Everything is chaos. And you just gotta fucking dance through it.
Sophie Marsh: End scene.
Bridget Hollitt: This interview has just completely blown apart any idea I had about anything. If anyone knows anything about anything, could you just let me know? Thanks.
Sophie Marsh: I want to lean into this idea that everything is kind of delusional for a second. Tell me, where is Gao and where is Bridget in 30 years time?
Bridget Hollitt: I remember speaking to a friend about this once. She was 19 and I was like “You have so much time!”, and she just was like, “It just doesn’t feel like it. It just feels like it’s all gonna end tomorrow.”
It’s like if I don’t do it now, I never will, because I don’t know who I’m gonna be in three years.
We’re changing so rapidly and there’s a lot of lack of trust in what’s coming. What I’ve found as I mosey into my late twenties, is that the carpet in front of me is starting to actually roll out, which is (extremely) in one sense comforting and then scary in the other.
I hope in 30 years that I will be completely digitally-integrated and post-physical. I just want to live in a computer. Sing little songs.
I want to be integrated into the cloud so that people can talk to me whenever they want. I’ll hopefully have 274 boyfriends and I will be smarter than them all.
And when I want to procreate, I will absorb one of said boyfriends into the digital space and we will enmesh our code to make a beautiful fleshless baby.
That was Gao speaking.
Sophie Marsh: I think there is also that phenomenon that we are experiencing of shortened breath, in terms of how time feels. And I think that shortened breath manifests as a very physical symptom of the feeling. Do you notice that this impacts your ability to interact in romantic spaces?
Bridget Hollitt: Whoa. Whoa. Oh my God, Sophie! fuck! What are you doing to me? Thank God. I have life coaching after this.
Well, you just blew something apart for me. I think that part of why I had this incessant urgency to get out of my last relationship, which was really beautiful in some ways and also very problematic– and of course the EP is very inspired by– is that I felt like, if I don’t leave now, I never will. If I don’t do the things that I feel like I need to do now, I never will. It’s like this urgency of now or never.
I do believe that sometimes urgency is a really healthy part of a creative person’s journey because I I think that in your 20s, your brain is still spongy and malleable so you need to absorb as much of the important things as possible. So I think that being stuck in this kind of cyclonic attachment was taking so much of my energy that I needed to absorb information.
By information, I mean experience, inspiration, connection and a sense of autonomy– which is integral in a creative person’s journey. But I do believe that now things are starting to slow down for me, I could potentially sit still in a relationship and work through things.
There’s always a trade-off. But now, any energy that I put into that relationship will not be taking from my own personal development. Whereas in the past, I just didn’t have the capacity. Part of the reason for that is because I felt like the world was going to end. And if I didn’t get in what it was that I needed to get in before it ended, then I would have failed the game of life in this particular iteration. And then you know it would have said GAME OVER and I would have blown up and I would have come back out as like a little Mario/Bridget and had to do it all again.
I really want to get my shit done in this lifetime. I don’t know why. I just feel like it’s one of my last ones.
Sophie Marsh: You know, when something is larger than something else or has more room than something else, it becomes parasitic. It’s not mutualistic. And I think it’s such a beautiful thing to address, as potentially not even just a feminine itch that needs to be scratched, but a human one. Where it’s like – I love how you began to say it– you can’t sit still until you have made room for yourself to sit comfortably.
Bridget Hollitt: That’s exactly it. I think that’s a really pivotal factor in dating people who are older in your 20s or even like your teens… Let’s just say it. When I was 18, I was dating someone who was 28 and their life force and their energy and their life took up so much space because they’d spent 10 more years refining and building and accumulating who they are. And so I was this *gestures to hand gap* small energetically and I was in the corner while the whole room was filled with their energy. It wasn’t even like they did that on purpose, they just had more stuff.
My last partner was only four years older than me. They were experienced in the pursuit of their craft and their job and their life, and they knew a lot about themselves, and in that I think my smallness became suffocating. I needed to go and get energetically giant in order to come back into a space to relate with somebody.
And I’m not a giant yet. But I’m getting really big energetically.
Sophie Marsh: I was wondering how giant you wanted to be?
Bridget Hollitt: Oh huge.
Sophie Marsh: How many people ideally would fit in your oxygen bubble? Like how huge is your concept of everybody?
Bridget Hollitt: This is why going post physical would be more convenient but I can probably extend my energy force out to hold 8 billion people.
Sophie Marsh: Is that how many we’re up to on Earth? What the fuck? I swear it was 6 a few years ago.
Bridget Hollitt: We keep doing this, people keep popping out.
Sophie Marsh: Who’s gonna tell them?
Bridget Hollitt: Everybody needs to stop fucking.
Sophie Marsh: Celibacy.
Bridget Hollitt: Worldwide ban on sex.
Sophie Marsh: Unless if you have your license to fuck.
Bridget Hollitt: Yeah. I’ve got my license to fuck.
I think also part of the conversation is this physical- digital dysphoria. Time becomes very strange and warpy, when you live half of your life in a timeless sphere. My favorite Ted Talk is called, We are all cyborgs now. It’s where a cyborg anthropologist talks about how we have digital avatars and then we have our physical identity. They are actually separated from each other.
So I think that a lot of the reality warps and the strange bends in. Perception of ourselves, and of our worlds, and our goals come from this constant, pendulum swing between living our digital selves out and living our physical selves out.
Sophie Marsh: What is your ideal relationship between your digital and your physical self?
Bridget Hollitt: It’s an outer refraction of an inner part of self. And I think it’s difficult because in a way social media is asking us all to be artists when we’re not nearly all artists.
We’re all creative but we’re not necessarily artists in the sense that we’re trying to manifest something, in a collective consciousness, that represents something very specific to us. It’s a constant calculation that’s very difficult and unrealistic. So I think, in a way, we’re all like cyborg artists or digital artists or something.
I kind of feel like I want to push that part of me away into a corner. But at the same time my digital identity has afforded me so much connection with others and representation of myself in a world where a lot of the time I’m being portrayed by other artists. Other photographers and fashion labels and, TV projects for example. Whereas I am the creative director of my online avatar.
So, I think the ideal relationship is one with boundaries. One where I’m able to take some time off and it doesn’t feel oppressive in the sense that I don’t need to be with it all the time. So that I can nurture it and love it and benefit from this creative project that I have online.
For right now I’m trying to treat it as I would this EP. It’s just kind of more, it’s constantly moving and changing, and growing and people are interfacing with it. So it’s more alive.
Sophie Marsh: Ideally, when you do get big-big, huge-huge, what are you going to feed people?
Bridget Hollitt: I mean. Worms.
I think I’m joking, but there’s actually a lot of environmental theory that suggests that climate change could really be helped by using insects. I don’t know if they said worms but they said grasshoppers and stuff. It’s actually really ecologically sound and apparently they taste like prawns when you take off their exoskeleton. So just putting that in there.
Sophie Marsh: Really? This is a whole other side quest.
Bridget Hollitt: We’ll go there another day, but I want to say it’s funny this keeps coming up, but I want to feed people permission. I want to give people permission to be their wildest, broadest selves within the limits of morality. I truly believe your wildest, broadest self loves just as wildly and broadly as it does everything else.
I think that’s what I’ve benefited from the most, in my short time on this earth so far, watching other people be brazen and bold and feeling expanded by that. So I would like to do that for others.
Sophie Marsh: Some people are going to get spanked.
Bridget Hollitt: That’s my about me on Spotify, just that in quotation marks: “I’m giving out spankings and they’re free.”
Sophie Marsh: Oh my God. Bridget, Bridget, Bridget, don’t you know nothing’s free in this world.
Bridget Hollitt: I don’t think I hand out any spankings in the EP. Maybe Daddy‘s a bit of a spanking.
Sophie Marsh: I think the spanking comes in the form of discomfort.
I might just be telling you something you had initially told me, but I believe in the idea that the people that you react most strongly to are the ones that make you question your sense of self.
Bridget Hollitt: That was not me. That was a friend of yours, but you quoted them to me.
Sophie Marsh: Did I really do that? Well, I’m a twat.
Bridget Hollitt: Yeah. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot since you said it. I think the opposite is also true in that the people that trigger us the most are reflecting back to us a part of us that we don’t want to look at.
Sophie Marsh: Yeah because you have held an idea of yourself that is being questioned, creating a separation between who you are to others, and who you think you are.
Bridget Hollitt: The way we try to measure our own existence against each other’s… like why if somebody’s doing something that I don’t do, why is that about me?
Because it’s not about me. But I’ll make it about me.
And then I’ll write a song about it. And then I’ll make everybody else listen to it.
Sophie Marsh: We’ve been to a lot of places in the past hour but I do want to ask you a few final questions and make sure they make it into the transcript. One of them comes off the back of one of your comments about living in an ecosystem, where you can’t run away from your responsibilities. What do you see as your responsibility within the ecosystem? And what are your hopes for the future of the ecosystem that you haven’t given up on yet?
Bridget Hollitt: And I mean that in the sense of taking responsibility for my own shit that, yeah I have absorbed from the system. But it’s mine to change.
I think that anytime that I go “oh my gosh, you’re right, I’m so sorry, I take full responsibility” is a time that I’m doing kind of what I came here to do.
And then past that, trying to make the world a more just place. You know, financially, opportunity wise, day-to-day how I treat people etc.
I think that the responsibility is to alchemise the rubbish into fresh air, clean water and nutrient-dense soil, in the most literal and metaphorical senses of those phrases. I think that’s all of humanity’s responsibility. To alchemise as much of the shit as we can into gold. It’s a very tall order.
I also have hope. In the healing of the masculine. Like I really believe that that is also on the horizon with a few spankings and a lot of love.
I think that the Divine Masculine is on an equally treacherous journey, and I’m excited to see how that can grow into its also boldest and most unhinged beautiful self.
Sophie Marsh: My final question to you is, for someone listening to Gao for the first time, what do they need to know about this EP, how was that for you? What order is it being listened to and what do people need to know?
Bridget Hollitt: So it’s a very folk acoustic based project with some random additions. It asks a lot of the listener. There’s a lot of concepts being thrown around. And it’s kind of like a little tour of places in my mind that I keep returning to. There’s a lot about heartbreak and about the itchiness of that. It’s pretty organic in aesthetic for the most part and leans into a lot of folk whilst maintaining an itchy, quirky side.
I put it in that order for a reason, but I keep telling people to listen to block u first, which is track three.
Sophie Marsh: I love that. Start with block u and go from there.
Bridget Hollitt: Go from track 3 to 1, 2, 4, 5.
No, nobody actually has to do that.
Sophie Marsh: No, you have to do that, it’s been decreed and if you don’t do it, you’ll be spanked.
+ PHOTOGRAPHER: Claire Hart @hartclaire_