Maryam Arshad at Floresta interviews Andrew on her work and upcoming gallery solo debut at Annka Kultys.
When Art Hacks Its Way Into Spaces: With Gretchen Andrew
By Maryam Arshad
Search engine artist. Internet Imperialist. AI ‘Hacker’. Addressing the political and the personal in male-dominated spaces is central to Gretchen Andrew’s internet art, vision boards and hacking. Her mixed media is found embedded amongst the top search results for ‘The Next American President’ and ‘The Turner Prize’. Where art challenges, raises questions and finds itself, quite literally, in places that are unexpected, her work is able to encapsulate ideas and prospects of connection, both human and technological, fluidly. We spoke to Gretchen Andrew about the internet, art, and the interaction, ideas and experiences of the two. Her upcoming exhibition ‘Other Forms of Travel’ will show at the Annka Kultys Gallery in London, UK, opening 22 April, 2021.
HOW DID YOU ARRIVE AT THE INTERSECTION BETWEEN ART AND THE INTERNET? IN YOUR OPINION IS THERE A CLEAR INTERSECTION BETWEEN THE TWO ENTITIES, OR ARE THEY FLUID WITH ONE ANOTHER?
Before deciding I was going to have the internet make me into an artist, I studied information systems in university and worked in Silicon Valley. The clearest interaction for me is that they are both parts of who I am and have shaped how I see the world and how I visualize my future.
YOUR “SEARCH ENGINE ART/ INTERNET IMPERIALISM PRACTICE” DIRECTLY INTERROGATES THE FUNCTIONS OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, AND REVERSES IT. WHAT DO YOU THINK THE PROSPECTS ARE FOR ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IN THIS LIGHT?
By virtue of becoming top search results, my vision boards infiltrate the educational development of artificial intelligence. Because they are vision boards and because they imagine a not-yet-accomplished world, they forward-face inputs into AI while most AI is educated only based on what has previously occurred, and for that matter, been recorded and measured. I want to dream with more people on the question of what if we educated AI based on the world we want instead of the world we have? That’s what I am doing right now and I welcome more people in the process.
YOUR WORK FINDS THE GAPS THAT WILL ALWAYS EXIST BETWEEN THE MINDS OF HUMANS AND THE MINDS OF COMPUTERS. HOW DOES YOUR WORK COMMENT ON THIS DISPARITY?
As humans we have a visceral and often uncomfortable experience of desire but computers only understand relevance, not hope or fear or love or any other relationship. I find this beautifully poetic and the technical “failure” to be positive. Computers can’t parse desire therefore desire makes us human therefore exploring our desires gets us closer to our humanity.
HOW DO YOU INTEND YOUR PRACTICE TO BE INTERPRETED?
I want my practice to be seen as playful and positive with serious implications. I want people to both go, “How on earth did you do that!” and “Wait! YOU did that? We should all be worried.” This dual experience of seeing my work plays with how my gender is perceived in areas of technological and political power.
WHY VISION BOARDS AS YOUR MEDIUM? WHAT INFLUENCED THIS?
Initially, I was hacking the internet and the art world with my figurative oil paintings, but I felt confronted by what I perceived to be the limitations attached to my gender. I hated that to be serious I felt like I had to do what was historically serious art. And even still, I wasn’t being taken seriously. So I sort of creatively gave up and decided to make work that didn’t look on the surface as powerful as it technically is. In this way, I became more integrated with my work and started having a lot more fun. This integration and fun is now so deeply tied to my work and it fuels my practice.
DO YOU THINK ARTISTS HAVE A PURPOSE IN RELATION TO THE CLIMATE CRISIS AND SUSTAINABILITY?
With the NFT gold rush this is a really important question right now. At the same time, I don’t believe that artists inherently occupy a superior moral role in society. That is to say, my role as an artist is the same as my role as a citizen, an occupant of this earth. My work’s somewhat subliminal activism deals mostly with big tech and concentrations of power, which definitely brushes up against sustainability and clement.
DOES YOUR WORK EXPLORE ANY ISSUES WE SEE PREVALENT IN SOCIETY?
At its roots, my work is all about how desire, love, information, and connection can be more powerful than many of the technologies and political institutions we can feel under the thumb of. The surface of my work has a luxury, party, frivolity to it—all champagne and expensive jewelry. I lean into the self-supposed self-centeredness of my own desires which are expressed in a lot of this imagery. At the same time, the work intentionally raises awareness about how power operates online while also giving permission to everyone to dream big and not be afraid of what you want, personally professionally or politically.
CAN YOU GIVE US AN INSIGHT INTO YOUR UPCOMING EXHIBITION ‘OTHER FORMS OF TRAVEL’?
‘Other Forms of Travel’ is my first exhibition with Annka Kultys Gallery and opens on April 22, 2021. It contains two related search engine hacks, one art world institution and one political. If you google ‘Best MFA’ instead of getting a list of expensive art schools at which to get an official degree, you now see my vision boards that are about my desire to have my own experience (formal education and otherwise) be validated and recognized as valid in the art world. The work is about adventure and love and choosing your own path to knowledge. The second hack is of the search ‘Map of the EU’ and will reunify the UK back into the map of Europe. Like all my hacks, this political gesture is also very personal.
I’m thankful that the exhibition will be open to the public. It will be the first time any of my vision boards will be on public display!