Thought art belonged on the canvas, behind glass and on museum walls? Think again! LA-based “search-engine artist” Gretchen Andrew has a background in information systems, which she uses to manipulate the artificial intelligence underlying the internet so that her art appears as top search results. Having successfully fooled the internet into showing her work at art installations in Artforum and Frieze Art LA, she has now turned to the US presidential election. Her latest work, The Next American President project uses artificial intelligence to replace expected images of presidential candidates with her own artfully imagined futures. Drawing attention to how susceptible the internet is to anyone with basic knowledge of its underlying functions, we just had to speak to Gretchen about her work and art’s relationship with technology, politics and AI.
What first got you interested in art?
Growing up, I didn’t know that girls could be rock stars, and I think being an artist is the second coolest job. The balance of isolation and parties suits me better than my previous jobs of dangerously underqualified lifeguard, a one star uber driver, and Silicon Valley functionary. I guess that’s what got me really interested in art: comparing it to other jobs with commutes and customer feedback. While I can certainly name works and artists that got me into this, it was so much the daily doing of it, the getting to be it, that I was most interested in. There aren’t a lot of jobs in which you can personally invest this much and not have a breakdown.
Your art makes use of technology and artificial intelligence, can you tell us a little about that?
I make vision boards that I then program to become top Google search results and in this process reprogram the internet’s artificial intelligence. My vision boards are all about desire, and it’s the literal linguistic power of desire that I use to force Google to manifest everything I want. When I say enough times and in a structured way, “I want to be on the cover of Artforum,” Google moves my hopes into the top search results, making it this sort of techno-reality. The internet is sort of like our subconscious in that it cannot tell the difference between reality and something deeply imagined. I borrow the language and materials of the Law of Attraction and Power of Positive Thinking, while also writing the code and developing the information structures that turn my dreams into reality. My work is the outburst of an ongoing ego trip, but it’s also intentionally playful. It’s glittery, but I also like that there’s a dark power to it, a reason to be a little uneasy with the amount of power I’ve claimed for myself.
Have you always been interested in politics?
My parents were Reagan Era reactionaries, and I grew up in a Republican household, but I was always interested in the political process and its history. More recently, I’ve become really interested in power. Especially since, in the last couple of years, many women, myself included, are investigating our relationship with it. My work reverses the existing power dynamics of the internet, whose roots are in older power structures, especially gender. My vision boards use traditionally feminine materials to signal an unmistakable reclaiming of power.
Why do you feel the need to use your art to hack the 2020 presidential election?
I was tired of people talking about Russian interference in the 2016 election like it was some Jason Bourne, cutting-edge hacker spy shit. It wasn’t actually that impressive. I mean, I can do it, too. Let’s definitely be afraid of foreign meddling but also acknowledge how easy we’ve made it.
What do you think the future of art, politics and technology will look like?
When I get old, I’m going to live in the Barbican tower in London and not change out of my monogrammed robe and splitters when I go down the elevator to the Barbican’s galleries and concert halls. Like a crazy old ghost. The great thing about the Barbican is it’s already more than a little dystopian, a mostly failed integration of brutalist urban living, art, and public space. So, whatever happens in the future, there’s always going to be art to productively escape into. In the future, as now, my work engages with our moment but refuses to be reactive to it, and insists on looking forward. Whether there are alien spaceships or balls of fire or just a billion CCTV cameras outside my windows, I’m still going to be pursuing what I want. As I explore in all my vision boards, being intimate with and admitting what we want the future to look like is 99% of it. I’m busy creating that future on scales ranging from the future of feminism to coffee in bed.
Who are your art world heroes?
I’m regularly rereading Marina Abramović’s memoir, Walk Through Walls, and she’s been appearing in some of my recent vision boards.
The intensity with which she creates work, lives life, loves and suffers heartbreak all while ceaselessly making her place in history. I understand why Ulay was awarded historic and financial credit for the performances they originally did together, but I disagree with it. Art is rarely inherently valuable. Marina had to spend decades muscling the work into the public consciousness and art history. Ideas are relatively worthless. It was her persistence and dedication to the work long after it was originally performed, long after Ulay broke her heart and gave up on the vision, that makes her my hero.
On a more personal level, I want to mention a couple of my best friends who happen to be in the art world. Dawn Zhu dropped out of art school to play drums in a band that opened Oasis all over the world and now kills it in the cutthroat world of Gagosian. Like her, my friend Susan Sherrick from 1301 PE in Los Angeles, gives me hope that the art world can be fierce, competitive, and still a total joy.
Then, this probably won’t surprise you, but about a year ago I made a vision board for my ideal gallerist, and I swear Annka Kultys appeared straight off the canvas. Her gallery is celebrating 5 years and expanding even THIS YEAR. The quality and depth of her program is outstanding, and I’m grateful to be part of it. I’d also love everyone to know Anika Meier, Jessica Cerasi, and Rebecca Edwards, three curators who have helped me better understand my own work and made me more confident to share it the way I do.
Once you’re done with the election, what’s next?
I’m going to continue hacking my way into the art world through vision boards and search engine art manifestations. I’m taking on art schools with an exhibition at Annka Kultys in Feb 2021, and the auction houses in the fall of 2021. Because of how the search engine manipulation works, I’m always 6-8 months ahead on projects which gives a nice feeling of jump and the exhibition will appear.
Interview by Lizzy Vartanian