Flaunt interview Gretchen Andrew on her practice.
By Sophie Lee
Open Google. Type “cover of Artforum” into the search box. Then, switch to images. See all those lovely drawings and collages that pop up in the top row? They were created by Gretchen Andrew, who has turned hacking into an art form.
Andrew, who has also “hacked” her art into the Turner Prize, Whitney Biennial, Art Basel, and Frieze Los Angeles, has blended physical creation, artificial intelligence, and digital performance into something captivating and thought provoking. Where does art end and performance begin? What separates us from the computer systems we increasingly rely upon? None of us have exact answers to these questions, but Andrew’s work leaves them bouncing around in our heads.
This fall, Andrew has a solo exhibition at the Monterey Museum of Art. She will also be in residence at Gazelli Art House. We recently had the opportunity to catch up with the young creative about these future plans and to hear her reflect on her past work. Read our conversation below.
How did vision boards become a focus for your art?
The method I use to manipulate search results reprograms, or reeducates, the internet’s artificial intelligence. It’s like changing the required reading list of a college student. Because artificial intelligence is traditionally only programmed/educated based on existing images and data, it’s inherently backward-looking. By programming in my vision boards, my dreams, my hopes, I reverse this direction and insert forward thinking possibilities into its developing “brain.” It’s an intricate practice. It’s technical. It’s performative. It’s conceptual. I’ve lectured at Cambridge and published papers in the British Computer Society on it. And I’d been doing it with my paintings for 5 years.
Given all of this, I was really tired of trying to prove myself. Prove that I could paint. Prove that I was smart. Prove that I was a serious artist. Prove that I was doing something really new. And so I kind of just decided to give up proving and start daring people to confront the expectations of what serious art and a serious artist needs to look like.
By using the materials I do (fake flowers, sidewalk chalk, cake topper ballerinas, little felt teddy bears) and by calling my on-canvas works “vision boards” I am taking head-on real and imagined discountings of me and my work, the perception of technology as male and metal. With the vision boards I am being myself in a really subversive way.
You’ve said that the internet lacks the ability to “parse human desire.” What does this mean to you?
To parse is to divide into parts and identify the parts’ relations to each other. When you read, “Gretchen is really hoping that someday her work is on the cover of Artforum,” you understand quite naturally that there is a gap between where I want to be, on the cover of Artforum, and where I am now, sitting in my quarantine daydreaming. You understand the relationship between me and the object of my desire to be one of separation. But the internet fails to grasp how words like “hope,” “desire,” and “want” change the relationship between subject and direct object.
I am absolutely obsessed with the poetics of this. Computers can’t understand desire, ergo, desire is part of what makes us human. And that makes sense to me because the experience of desire is so physical. There are a lot of religions that call it the root of all evil, but I find it really essential to our humanity, to being alive.
So if you’ve ever wanted something, you understand the heart of my work. But the internet essentially understands only that Gretchen is “relevant” to the cover of Artforum. Gretchen is “relevant” to the Whitney Biennial and the Turner Prize. And so now, when you google, “cover of Artforum” and select images, my vision boards come up as the top search results. “Gretchen is really hoping that someday her work is on the cover of Artforum” has become “Gretchen is…on the cover of Artforum.”
How do you think our current situation of self-isolation, in which people are forced to consume art digitally, affects the way we interact with the medium?
My practice has always lived very naturally and simultaneously in what we consider to be the false dichotomy of the digital and physical worlds. This sprung from a fundamental belief in Digital Monism, a fancy way of saying that the contemporary human world is inseparably digital and non-digital, online and ofﬂine or, in obsolete terms, virtual and real. Any artist thinking about this for the first time right now is a little behind the eight ball. For a long time now the majority of people who saw paintings saw them digitally. In this way, in a Digital Monism sense, I’ve been thinking of all art as digital art. Self-isolation does have implications for what we consider to be public art, especially as the internet is a public good that is almost entirely controlled by private corporations.
Your work repositions the internet as a physical space to be explored. How do you see yourself moving through that space?
By calling myself an Internet Imperialist, I am calling out my artistic process as associated with the physical, ongoing history of imperialism and the encompassing themes of invasion, control, submission, exploitation, all of which is happening online through methods not dissimilar to my artistic process. The relative ease with which I am able to manipulate the global internet is disturbing. It’s dark. But I also really really really really really don’t want to make work about the techno apocalypse.
By using the vision boards instead of, say, a deep fake video, I am making it obvious to people, to humans, that the system is being tampered with. It’s so much less about real vs. fake as it is about art vs. life and past vs. future.
How would you characterize your time studying with Billy Childish? What about your different artistic styles led to such a successful collaboration between the two of you?
It was more like rogue art school than a collaboration.
The day I showed up at his studio I had no idea how to draw. I was lucky that his son was also learning at this time, and Billy was very open to sharing what he knew, both in technique and approach. When I was in Billy’s studio, I was intentionally stripping away what did make me and my work different. I was trying to be a very serious painter and, though he may not always agree, I learned how to. We have and always will have our differences, just as I do with newer mentors in my life, but there are few people I admire more and I am very lucky to have him as a mentor, influence, and friend. He’s got an exhibition up right now at Lehmann Maupin, South Korea that is absolutely stunning.
How did your residency at Gazelli Art House come about?
Manifestation? Therapy? Community? Good timing? And…stealing name cards?
People love to talk about how hostile the artworld is, and I’d been consciously working through some conscious and unconscious negative beliefs about it.
Around this time the artists Derek Boshier, Penny Slinger, Dhiren Dasu, and I were all in London. Derek and Penny joined me for a talk at my “Not Not The Turner Prize exhibition” and after Derek and Mila Askarova, who runs Gazelli, generously invited us all to the dinner to celebrate Derek’s opening.
Seeing Mila and her team work provided a positive model of the sort of people I’m hoping to work with. We had an absolute riot at this dinner, and one of the many things we talked about was my work. Many bottles of wine later, we closed down the restaurant, and, as we were leaving, I made the not entirely sober decision to grab and pocket all the name tags off the dinning table. This made it much easier the next morning to find everyone online and express my gratitude for the evening. The residency was suggested from there.
While in residence, what can we expect?
This month I am going to be sharing vision boards from two series I am developing: “The Cover of Artforum” and “The Next American President,” which uses vision boards to hack the 2020 presidential election. Along with information about my studio and practice, I am hosting a conversation series which invites women I admire to discuss how they make their own realities through their work as artists, technologists, athletes, inventors. The thesis behind these conversations is that by being themselves, the work they do is inherently feminist. Feminism here is not a set of values or a defined political lens, it’s being an individual, being a woman, making decisions, making and reshaping the world. We also explore how themes in my own work such as control, power, and subversion resonate in their own.
Despite the state of things, what’s next for you?
I’ve got a solo exhibition at the Monterey Museum of Art opening this fall and we are planning to install the show physically even if guests can only visit it virtually at first.
For the exhibition, the museum was always planning on taking out an ad in Artforum that, when you open the magazine, looks like another cover but within the magazine. This internal cover will be one of my “Cover of Artforum” vision boards. This advertisement, which also acts as a conceptual art piece, will be performed every time anyone anywhere opens an Artforum magazine. This sort of distributed work never depended on large public gatherings. I’m working with the museum’s director, Stuart Chase, and manager of public engagement, Chris Cohoon, to create additional, unique ways to make the exhibition a success no matter the state of the world in a few months.
Along with that, every day I’m spending time dedicated to thinking of new ways to reach people where they are. As an artist, the type of artist I aspire to be, I consider my job to be to make culture that people feel connected to, understand, and celebrate. My practice is complex. I’m asking my community to engage with information theory, programming, artificial intelligence…and with glitter. I think that there are a lot of people who enjoy the aesthetic of Instagram and who also read The New Yorker and that many of us don’t think these two things need to be so culturally separate. That’s what I am thinking about as I’m sending work out into the world today.