Six Monkeys, the potential of e-mail protocol


Artist Brendon Dawes has produced a series of six devices that explore possible interactions between physical objects and the flow of receiving e-mail. The work was commissioned by MailChimp, the well-known email marketing platform. The six-object function uses the email communication protocol and consists of rethinking the positive aspects of these ordinary exchanges. The goal of this work is to contrast the obsession of “Inbox 0”: making the inbox empty in the name of efficiency and ecology of mind. The artist explores interactions caused by the use of e-mail in everyday life. Six Monkeys plays with notifications of arrival, changing the alert sounds of a relentless progression of unread e-mails. “Oliver” is a kind of abacus light that represents the filling of your inbox. “Lucy” is a cylinder that works with suffused colours brightening the arrival of email previously sorted by subject or sender. “Sarah” slowly shows a pop-up message when the receiver gets a message from a favourite sender. The other three items in the series are based on the function of e-mail storage and the memories they trigger (often intimate and personal) are transformed into physical artefacts. “Lana” is a white box about the same size as a paperback book. When it is moved slightly it transmits memories in the form of a random search from its files. “Ham” holds the user’s most valuable e-mails, able to reprint them at any time by simply turning a handle. And finally, if none of these devices are enough to exorcise the stress of continuous flow, there is “Nim” which switches off the flow of incoming emails. The devices are named after chimpanzee stars from scientific experiments on human language learning: hence the name of the opera, “Six Monkeys”. Beyond the clear link with the client, this reference could also be a reference to ancient research into the universality of language. Apparently this natural and persistent longing has transferred its field of interest from human beings to transmission protocols. As a result, e-mail may remain a solid bulwark, an unchanging milestone, as MailChimp will surely hope. In June 2014, the company sent more than 10 billion emails. Chiara Ciociola