Gretchen Andrew has been interviewed by Tainted Magazine about leaving Silicon Valley behind for an art career, criticising systems of power in the EU, sharing glue gun with her viewers, and how Google’s revenue model is directly interested in making women a product for consumption.
Gretchen Andrew and the Art of Hacktivism
Visual artist Gretchen Andrew hacks the virtual platforms that control our lives to initiate a dialogue about the tech world, sexism, and systems of power.
The explosion of Silicon Valley in recent decades has inspired countless revolutionary technological developments that have become commonplace in our daily lives. Algorithms, search engine optimization, and artificial intelligence continue to grow in popularity and accessibility, but what does that mean for the world we live in? Gretchen Andrew translated her experiences from behind-the-scenes in the tech world developing an art practice critiquing the use of technology and that inherent systemic issues the dominate the field
Tainted Magazine had the opportunity to connect with Gretchen Andrew to understand her evolution as an artist, her thoughts on the future of the tech world, and an exclusive look at what projects she has on the horizon.
Valley of the Shadow of Tech
TM: Every artist’s journey is unique. We know that you began enveloped in the tech world of Silicon Valley and took to art after discovering the gender inequalities of the industry. Can you tell us more about your journey and why you felt art was the best path for you moving forward?
GA: That I thought that art—this thing I knew nothing about—was a better path for me than tech, for which I was officially educated, trained, and experienced, is actually totally insane. It speaks to how little I felt like I fit into the culture of the leaders and visionaries of the industry. Though to say I left because of gender inequities is giving my 22-year-old self too much credit. I felt irrationally unhappy. It took me a decade to begin unpacking why I felt like I could not be both myself and successful in a tech career. If I had the self-awareness and confidence I do now, maybe I could now, but art gave me not just the acceptance but also the space to figure out what I had been taught and whether that was serving me and women in general.
“NYTimes Art” to “Map of the EU”: Where the Physical Meets Digital
Her work “NYTimes Art” leads electronic visitors to images of her physical artworks and projects as they attempt to search for the prestigious New York Times Art section. Similarly, “Map of the EU” criticizes systems of power that remain concealed under the guise of the European Union. Gretchen Andrew presents alternative imagery that reflects the overlooked consequences and political interests in this growing economic force.
Through works such as these, Gretchen Andrew’s name has gained esteem for both her physical artworks and her hacktivist style of digital art. Her popular Vision Boards integrate her mixed-media processes with her overthrowing of search engines, where she has altered the digital presence of renowned institutions such as the Turner Art Prize and Artforum.
TM: Your Vision Boards intermingle notions of a painterly hand, gestural sketching, with your elements of mixed media. When viewing them as a series you can see the intentionality of your color palette in each work. Can you explain what influences your use of color?
GA: In my studio, my plethora of materials are organized by color. All the materials I acquire are joyful, playful, symbolic of celebration, or luxury of femininity. But once they enter my studio they become shapes, colors, textures, somewhat removed from the thing they are, whether a fake flower or a ballet slipper. As I am working, I am working much more like a painter with a pallet than as a collage artist.
TM: Stemming from the idea of gender politics in the technological world, can you explain how you manage to balance themes of reclamation of power simultaneously with critiques of power through your practice and what challenges this presents you in your process of creation?
GA: The first thing to realize is the systems of power that exist on the internet were, by and large, created by a very demographically narrow set of people who were, like an artist, creating a world they personally wanted. The gender discrepancy online is also deeper than that, intrinsically tied to how Google makes money through advertising. Anything that is a product, can be sold, has a higher value to Google than information, content, real news, art, etc. because Google is a wealthy and powerful company and it is essentially a fancy advertising machine. Women, the image of women, as products can be measured online. And Google’s revenue model is directly interested in making women a product for consumption.
Knowing all this, I take the same process of productization, of SEO, of speaking to Google in a way that pleases it, tricking it into thinking that my artwork could possibly make Google rich, then turn it into a tool of infiltration. I get into the brain and mind of Google without having to work there.
The internet may be designed to make women inferior but it is important to keep in mind the quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Our ignorance about how these systems operate has been taken as a form of consent. I am hopeful that my work over time will almost inadvertently teach people about how the internet works and how to make it work for more of us.
Disrupting Platforms of Power
Gretchen Andrew’s notoriety has grown, gaining her a solo exhibition in Austria this October at Francisco Carolinum Linz. The exhibition will feature new pieces from her Vision Boards with a new twist. The physical and digital aspects of her work take on new life as she incorporates a social practice-styled element where viewers of the exhibition assist her in her internet takeovers. Her viewers are left with the question, what frontiers is she going to conquer next?
TM: Your exhibition “Trust Boundary” at the Francisco Carolinum Linz in Austria opens this fall. Here, you seem to be introducing an interesting new element to your Vision Boards, viewer participation. What encouraged you to create this interactive experience and how do you foresee incorporating participatory aspects in the future?
GA: When visitors enter the third room in my exhibition at Francisco Carolinum Linz, they will be presented with a massive pile of vision board materials that they will be encouraged to use to affix their own desire onto the walls of the museum, thus transforming the museum itself into a vision board.
Both art and technology are guilty of making themselves seem more complicated than they really are in order to build artificial boundaries between insiders and outsiders.
My friend, the fabulous AI artist Jake Elwes, talks about the responsibility we have to demystify artificial intelligence through our work. I’ve always wanted to bring more people into the process, to find less intimidating ways to become familiar with the technologies that are running our lives, to use that knowledge as a form of empowerment. It’s been hugely empowering to me personally and that motivates me to want to share. I want my work to be a wide open door to greater internet and technology literacy. By designing my exhibition, Trust Boundary,for viewer participation, I am welcoming everyone into the process of visualization: desire identification as the first step in recreating technology to be based on the world we want, not just the world we have had. One step at a time.
This sort of participation had been planned for my last two exhibitions with The Monterey Museum of Art and Annka Kultys Gallery but COVID-19 made the sharing of space, desire, and glue guns difficult.
TM: Looking forward, do you have any plans or aspirations to expand your practice into the use of new mediums? Is there a particular medium you feel would be the most impactful or effective for conveying your messages?
GA: At Francisco Carolinum Linz, I’ll be sharing the first four vision boards in my “Mirror Work” series, which are vision boards that are or contain reflective mirrors. “Mirror Work” comes from the same self-help, law of attraction, affirmation culture as a vision board, manifestation, and visualization. “Mirror Work” explores reprogramming your own mind, getting clear about your own desires, as the first step in changing any system of power.
From an installation standpoint, it also allows the visitors to become part of the work, to literally see themselves in the place of power that is a museum like Francisco Carolinum Linz.
TM: A notable aspect of your practice and career as an artist has been your methods of hacktivism, as seen by your overthrowing of search engine optimizations on platforms such as Google. Would you be able to share any details or clues about any upcoming hacktivist art projects?
GA: Yes. Absolutely. You may have noticed that to this point my work has mostly addressed Google. I take the system that is search technology and appreciate it to do the opposite of what it was designed to do. In May of 2022, I will be exhibiting with Alexander Falko in Cologne my first series that upends Facebook through a similar method. Ultimately, almost all of the financial power of big tech comes through “adtech,” technology around serving and targeting advertisements. Advertisements are, even before big tech, modes of manipulating our feelings and desires. As I’ve done with Google, I’ll be reclaiming the power of desire on Facebook’s platform.
One of the reasons why I like reclaiming adtech is because advertising has always been designed to manipulate us into certain consumer behaviors. I’ll be hacking advertising along with its technical vehicles.